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Scientists find elephant memories may hold key to survival
Date:8/11/2008

oups observed during the event, the two groups that left the park suffered lower mortality rates than the group that remained in the northern portion of the protected area. The researchers speculated that these elephants succeeded in finding sufficient food and water outside the protected area to keep themselves and their young alive. The group that stayed suffered 63 percent of the mortality for the year.

Second, an examination of the ages of the individual elephants in the three herds was even more suggestive. The data indicated that the age of the mother elephants was an important predictor for calf survival. The two groups that left the park, presumably in search of food and water, had matriarchs that were ages 45 and 38 years of age respectively, whereas the group that remained had a matriarch that was only 33 years of age, the result of heavy poaching during the 1970's and 1980's that targeted older females with large tusks.

Third, the researchers pointed out that the groups that left the park may have benefited from the specific experiences of their oldest matriarchs, which perhaps were able to draw upon memories of an earlier drought and how they survived it. The case is strengthened by the known life history of the oldest matriarchs in these groups, some of which were five years or older during the drought of 1958-61. The group that remained in Tarangire in 1993 had no individuals old enough to remember the event.

"It's enticing to think that these old females and their memories of previous periods of trauma and survival would have meant all the difference," added Foley. "The data seem to support the speculation that the matriarchs with the necessary experience of such events were able to lead their groups to drought refugia."

During the 1970s and '80s, many of Eastern Africa's largest elephants fell victim to waves of poachers who were eager to exploit the profitability of the black market for ivory.

"Hopefully,
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Contact: John Delaney
jdelaney@wcs.org
718-220-3275
Wildlife Conservation Society
Source:Eurekalert  

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