Unusual elephant behavior?

Mar 4th, 2006, 07:37 AM
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Unusual elephant behavior?

We saw something in Kruger Park two weeks ago that no one we've talked to has been able to explain. We were driving and came upon a small herd of elephants in the middle of the road. There were about a dozen animals, including some young ones. They were in a tight circle or oval, with some elephants facing outward in most directions. Others of the elephants were lying down in the middle of the circle. They would get up and others would lie down as we watched. The young ones moved back and forth off the road into the bush and back, but none of the adults did. The elephants facing us, who seemed to be on guard, were standing still, trunks down, ears not flapping. We watched this scene for 30-45 minutes before turning back. People in other cars were there watching too, and said it had been going on for quite a while. We saw some of the same people later in the day and they said they continued to watch for another half hour or so before turning around.

Nobody knew what was going on. It certainly wasn't play, with those guard elephants standing around. And the ones lying down weren't sick or hurt; people who were at that spot later in the day saw no evidence of the elephants, so they all must have moved on.

A ranger was as perplexed as anyone else, but speculated that one of the herd might have been giving birth.

Does anyone have any ideas about this?
Celia is offline  
Mar 4th, 2006, 08:28 AM
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I've no idea, but this sounds fascinating...the birthing scenario described by the ranger sounds plausible.

jasher is offline  
Mar 4th, 2006, 08:57 AM
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I think the elephants would have been more excited if there had been a birth. As they took turns lying down, maybe they had found some really interesting chemical substance on the road and wanted to make sure everyone in the herd had it on their skin. This is just a wild guess.
Nyamera is offline  
Mar 4th, 2006, 05:50 PM
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The circle of adults around the young is certainly a guarding behavior I've seen on many occasions. However, I've never seen it happen in the middle of a road. The ranger might be right. Usually when a female is giving birth her family doesn't travel very far off. Once she has given birth they all trumpet, urinate and celebrate. Perhaps a female was indeed in labor off the road and they were just waiting. The fact that some of the younger ones were wandering off the road adds to this thought. If there had been a real danger the adults trunks would have been up and the babies would not have been allowed to wander off.

Trunks hanging down can mean several things. Either they are very relaxed and resting (or even rest their trunks over their tusks) or they do this when they are depressed after the death of a family member.

This guaranteed circling guarding behavior is great when protecting the young against predator-type wildlife. However, it is also what makes it so easy to cull large herds because the adults, rather than scattering off with their young in different directions, always form the circle to protect the young and become easy targets. The babies that survive have seen literally every adult member of their family slaughtered. Any baby that has seen this is so traumatized that it takes extremely special care to help them overcome this.

Thanks for reporting this interesting sight. Very interesting.

JanGoss is offline  
Mar 4th, 2006, 07:46 PM
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Hi There-

This is a TV guess entirely, but I saw a PBS show about elephants and death and a herd came across bones and "investigated" them for hours in the take-turns style you describe.

They ran their trunks over the bones and lifted them and "expereinced" them for hours. Could there have been some bones there out of sight or could one of the herd have died there at some point in the past and this was a ritual?
Peterman is offline  

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