With elephants, the old men are indispensable!

Old elephant males unnecessary for the herd? On the contrary, they are crucial.

A herd of elephants in Botswana. Old males play an important leadership role in the group.

It is often used as an argument by elephant hunters: old male elephants would no longer be important for reproduction, so it wouldn’t be so bad to shoot these specimens – with a lot of ivory. But a study published in the scientific journal Scientific Reports leaves little of that theory intact.

Researchers studied the behavior of more than 1,250 male elephants on the African savanna. This shows that old males are remarkably often at the forefront of herds of males, suggesting that they play an important leadership role in movement.

Also striking older males relatively often explore the road alone, probably because this is too risky for the younger elephants. They display their leadership in all seasons. The researchers from the University of Exeter, among others, conclude that old males are crucial for the group. Scientists have also discovered in recent years how important the role of ‘grandparents’ is in other animal species, such as the orca.