Social Disruption Impairs Predatory Threat Assessment in African Elephants
School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University, Bangor LL57 2UW, UK
School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University, Bangor LL59 5AB, UK
School of Life Sciences, University of Kwazulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 3209, South Africa
Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Nairobi 00509, Kenya
Mammal Communication and Cognition Research Group, School of Psychology, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9QH, UK
Authors to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Angela S. Stoeger and Anton Baotic
Received: 13 October 2021
Revised: 9 February 2022
Accepted: 14 February 2022
Published: 17 February 2022
The sharing of social and ecological information is vitally important for group-living animals, especially among cognitively advanced species (e.g., primates, cetaceans and elephants) that can acquire detailed knowledge over their long lifetimes. In our study, we compared the ability of elephants from two very different populations to assess the threat associated with different numbers of roaring lions. The population in Amboseli (Kenya) consists of stable family groups and experiences relatively low levels of human disturbance, while the population in Pilanesberg (South Africa) was founded in the early 1980’s from young and often unrelated orphan elephants. We broadcast lion roars to families of elephants in both these populations and recorded how they responded to differing levels of threat (one versus three lions). The Amboseli population successfully increased their defensive bunching behaviour to the greater threat associated with three lions, whereas the Pilanesberg elephants appeared unable to make the same distinction. Our findings indicate that profound disruption experienced early in life and the lack of older adults to learn from has impaired the ability of the Pilanesberg elephants to make accurate assessments of predatory threat. We suggest that, in addition to population size, conservation practitioners need to consider the crucial role of social structure and knowledge transmission in these highly social and long-lived species.