Immigrant elephants

Eventually, social segregation break down – research revealed

15 December 2008. The elephants have been found to form immigrant enclaves when placed in a new environment.

US researchers studied elephants when they arrived in an ecologically unfamiliar environment, and were surprised to find they formed immigrant enclaves, rather than forming new acquaintances.

The research team from the University of California moved 150 African elephants in Kenya to a different area and analysed the way the elephants interacted with each other.

Despite being generally sociable in their new home, the animals tended to stick to groups of familiar yet unrelated elephants that they arrived with. Socialising with unknown individuals has clear risks – they could be aggressive or carry diseases – but they will also have invaluable knowledge about the habitat, which other newcomers won’t.

Because elephants rely on social knowledge to gain an understanding of their new home, the research team were surprised to find that they associated less with these knowledgeable local residents than expected.

With time, however, the social segregation broke down, showing that African elephants are able to successfully integrate into an unknown habitat.

The question of whether animal species are able to integrate into new environments is not only important in understanding nature, but also in understanding the effects of human behaviour on the natural environment.

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