Why elephants form unusual all-male groups ganging up in human-occupied areas

Deepika S

Bengaluru, July 16: Elephants are social animals.They live in a fluid fission-fusion society with relationships radiating out from the mother-offspring bond through families, bond groups, clans, independent males and beyond to strangers.

In a change of attitude, young male elephants are forming gangs to protect themselves, typically including three to six elephants, that stay and move like a pack. Interestingly, these elephants would otherwise behave normally as they would in their protected, forest habitats.

This adaptation could be an effort avoid getting killed in these areas that pose unnaturally high risks to elephants.

A new study by the National Institute of Advanced Studies published in Scientific Reports reports that adult Asian elephant males are typically solitary but could also form small, short-term, all-male groups, especially during crop-foraging.

Male Asian elephants are known to forage on agricultural crops nearly six times more, on average, than do female-led family groups in certain populations of southern India. It has been proposed that such male elephants may be adopting a high-risk high-gain foraging strategy to improve their body condition and come into musth, thereby increasing their reproductive success.

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The authors analysed 1,445 photos of 248 distinct Asian elephants from a 23-month period spanning most of 2016 and 2017. The locations ranged over parts of southern India close to major urban centers, and included said cropland, as well as forested and non-forested areas more isolated from human activity.

Human beings now dominate much of the landscape on Earth with farmlands, residential areas, and industry. Thinning forests to make way for said farms is another issue elephants are having to deal with, with movement along "elephant corridors" that connect their different habitats now restricted.

Human-elephant conflict is on the rise and is currently at an all time high. In the last five years the conflict has claimed over 2,300 people in India, with West Bengal recording the maximum 403 deaths.

In the last five years, 2,398 people have died since 2014 up to March 31, 2019 due to human-elephant conflict with West Bengal recording the maximum 403 deaths in last five years.

Rising incidents of conflicts have become a source of worry for governments, conservationists and people living close to the wild animals.

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