Give Now  »

Indiana Public Media | WFIU - NPR | WTIU - PBS

Noon Edition

Elephant Grandmothers Equal More Elephant Calves

Read Transcript
Hide Transcript

Transcript

D:        Hey Yaël, where've you been?

Y:        I was just visiting the zoo, Don.

D:        Oh, great! What was your favorite thing you saw?

Y:        The elephants, hands down. There was an elephant family that walked right up to where I was standing -- an old grandmother elephant, a mother, and her baby elephant calf. And you know why that made me so happy?

D:        Nope, tell me.

Y:        Multigenerational groups like that aren't common in zoos, but they're a really good idea for elephants. I just read a study that talked about how important grandmother elephants are for the survival of baby calves. Researchers analyzed data collected on semi‑captive Asian elephants in Myanmar. They found that, if an elephant mother younger than twenty years had a calf, and the grandmother lived in the same location, the calf was eight times more likely to survive than calves born to young mothers without the grandmother elephant present. They also found that the presence of a grandmother decreased the amount of time mothers took between births by a year, so having a grandmother around ultimately means more elephants are born. The presence of a grandmother wasn't as important to older mothers since, as you can imagine, it's likely that when a mother's already reared a good number of calves, she's more likely to have enough experience to rear her calves successfully herself.

D:        Elephants are endangered, aren't they?

Y:        Many elephant species are. So this study has important implications for the conservation world. Basically, if we want to help keep our elephants alive, we can't ignore the grandmothers.

D:        Ignoring grandmothers never sounds like a good idea.

Elephant

Grandmothers help younger mothers survive. (Gorgo, Wikimedia Commons)

Multigenerations groups aren't common in zoos, but they're a really good idea for elephants. A recent study showed how important grandmother elephants are for the survival of baby calves. Researchers analyzed data collected on semi-captive Asian elephants in Myanmar.

They found that if an elephant mother younger than 20 years had a calf, and the grandmother lived in the same location, the calf was eight times more likely to survive than calves born to young mothers without the grandmother elephant present.

It was also shown how the presence of a grandmother decreased the amount of time mothers took between births by a year, so having a grandmother around ultimately means more elephants are born. The presence of a grandmother wasn't as important to older mothers since, as you can imagine, it's likely that when a mother's already reared a good number of calves, she's more likely to have enough experience ro rear her calves successfully herself.

Many elephant species are endangered, so this study has important implications for the conservation world. Basically, if we want to help keep our elephants alive, we can't ignore the grandmothers.

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science