Female elephants can keep track of at least 17 relations simultaneously

December 5th, 2007 - 1:28 pm ICT by admin  

London, December 5 (ANI): Experiments carried out by researchers from the University of St Andrews and the Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya have shown that female elephants possess the ability to remember where they can find the members of their families, while their herd is searching for food.

Professor Richard Byrne, a researcher at the university, says that a female elephant can remember the whereabouts of at least 17 family members. The number may be 30 sometimes, he adds.

He has revealed that female elephants can keep track of the relations that are ahead of them as the herd searches for food. They can also remember which of their relations are lagging behind, and which are moving in separate groups.

Its hard enough for us to keep track of two or three children in a busy shopping centre. Imagine trying to do it with 30 or so, Times Online quoted Prof. Byrne as saying.

The researchers observed African elephants for their ability to keep track of their relations in a constantly changing environment. They found that the animals did so by sniffing urine.

According to the researchers, through elephants have poor eyesight, they possess and excellent sense of smell that enables them to identify one another from traces of urine on the ground.

During the study, the researchers collected samples of earth soaked in the elephants urine. They placed the samples in positions where a herd was about to pass.

The animals expressed surprise upon detecting the odour of a family member that they knew was behind them, the researchers observed.

Another observation of the researchers was that the animals showed interest when the urine was that of a close relative travelling in the same group or in a separate herd, but samples left by unknown individuals were ignored.

Very long-term memory may not be all that important to animals except on rare occasions. But keeping track of a constantly changing situation would be, Professor Byrne said.

Elephants are keeping track of whether a member of the family is in the group they are in and whether they are in front or behind. Thats quite a challenge for any of us when you are talking about 20 to 30 individuals, he added.

While reporting their findings in the journal Biology Letter, the researchers concluded: It seems that female elephants have a general interest in monitoring family members with whom they are travelling. Elephants order of travelling often changes and overtaking is common, suggesting that elephants must frequently update their expectation of where others are in relation to themselves. As a highly social species, elephants would benefit from knowing which individuals were near by. (ANI)

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