You must have heard the phrase ‘elephant’s memory’ being used for people with a long memory.
It seems the long memory of elephants, especially female elephants, is directly responsible for the well being of their families. This fact was discovered by a group of researchers of the University of Sussex who studied the elephants of Amboseli National Park in Kenya, the Telegraph newspaper reported.
Elephants live in matriarchal families or families that are headed by the mothers. The oldest mother in the herd leads half a dozen other adult females and their children when they go looking for food. This is because the oldest female elephant is the one with the longest memory in the family. She can differentiate a friend from a foe more than anyone else.
Males, on the other hand, do not form close bonds. They move out of their mothers’ herd in their teens. Then, they either live alone, or, in small bachelor groups.
And since elephants live up to the ripe old age of 60, or more, it gives them enough experience to fall back on. The mother elephant uses her experience to identify the inviting calls from a particular herd and decide whether the family should respond to it.
If it is a known voice, it is obviously a friend. If it is an unknown voice, she leads her family away. For, a stranger could also mean potential danger for the children in the herd.
This way, the herd also saves time when it is finding matches for its females. It falls back upon the mother elephant’s knowledge about friendly herds in other places.
The researchers found out that herds with leaders aged above 55 produced more calves per female than families with young leaders.
This is why older elephants are very important for a herd’s survival. But, sadly, older elephants are always the first targets of hunters and poachers. Killing an old elephant not only upsets her family structure for years, but it also has an impact on the future of the herd.