(ORDO NEWS) — Elephants are social animals, for which communication with relatives is important, especially in the earliest stages of life.
To some extent, the environment and support can even replace the loss of the mother for the baby elephant, and the orphans who remain in the family group do not differ from ordinary baby elephants in terms of the level of stress experienced.
African bush elephants have an unusually long childhood, and in this respect they resemble humans. Until the age of four, the baby elephant feeds on mother’s milk, but even after the end of this period, it maintains a close relationship with the parent for many years, even if she has another cub.
Naturally, being smart animals with a well-developed memory, elephants have a hard time losing other elephants, especially the loss of their mother.
Not only does a “dairy” baby elephant have little chance of surviving (although elephants start eating solid food quite early and can completely switch to it by the age of two), a high level of stress leads to numerous physiological disorders and makes the animal an easy prey for predators.
However, the sad fate of an orphaned elephant can be changed by living in a close family group, where he will have many companions of the same age.
To find out, scientists spent two years collecting samples of elephant droppings in Kenya and measuring the amount of glucocorticoid metabolites in them – breakdown products of glucocorticoid hormones that are secreted by the adrenal glands in response to stress.
After studying 492 samples, the researchers concluded that the concentration of glucocorticoid metabolites in the litter of non-orphaned and orphaned, but remained in the family group elephants is the same, while it is lower in those animals that lived with other elephants of the same age.
In other words, communication with peers was an effective “stress cure” for orphans, which allowed them to safely survive a difficult period of life.
The findings not only highlight the importance of family relationships for African elephants, but could also help inform programs to raise orphans and return them to the wild.
Now, understanding the importance of communication with peers for motherless cubs, conservationists will be able to form same-age groups of orphaned animals, which will then be released into the wild together.
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