Elephants may make other herbivores feel safe from predators

December 19th, 2008 - 2:21 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Dec 19 (ANI): A new study has suggested that elephants may make other herbivores feel safe from predators, especially when all the animals are gathered at a water hole.

According to a report in New Scientist, the study was conducted by Marion Valeix, then at the National Centre for Scientific Research in Beauvoir-sur-Niort, France.

The aim of her study was to find out if some elephant populations have increased due to reduced poaching and creation of artificial water holes, resulting in decline of herbivore species.

Though she had set out to discover if the elephants of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe were harming other herbivores by chasing them away from water holes, the findings surprised her.

Her team found that members of nine herbivore species, including buffalo, zebra, warthog and wildebeest, rarely backed off when elephants were around.

Instead, all herds increased their drinking time - normally between 5 and 10 minutes - by around 2 minutes.

Valeix said that elephants may make other herbivores feel safe from predators.

I have seen lions approach to hunt buffalos at a water hole and retreat when a group of elephants came closer and surrounded the buffalos, she said.

Alternatively, the herbivores may take longer to drink because they spend time looking out for the elephants, feeling nervous about them.

We will have to study the time individual animals spend drinking compared to looking around to answer this question. But, even if there is increased vigilance towards elephants, the time difference is so small that it is unlikely to explain herbivore population declines, said Valeix.

According to Community ecologist Todd Palmer at the University of Florida, who studies the interaction of elephants with other species, the water holes themselves may be to blame for the herbivore decline, because they help sustain artificially high densities of animals. (ANI)

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