By Christy Ullrich Barcus
Highly intelligent and social animals, African elephants depend on their sophisticated communication skills for survival in the wild. A recent study investigated the effects of culling and relocation on elephant decision-making and cognition decades later.
Behavioral ecologists from the University of Sussex in England led an international team to study two different elephant populations: one relatively undisturbed group living in Amboseli National Park in Kenya and another translocated population in Pilanesberg Park in South Africa. The Pilanesberg elephants were moved there as calves following managed culling of adults and older juveniles in Kruger National Park in the 1980s and 1990s.
Survivors from the translocated elephant group showed signs of negative long-term psychological impact that affected their decision-making process, paralleling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in humans, according to the study, which was published in Frontiers in Zoology on October 23, 2013.
Elephants develop complex social relationships over long life spans. Long-term learning and knowledge transfer in the Pilanesberg population was deeply affected by the culling, the study found.
(Read "Elephants Communicate in Sophisticated Sign Language, Researchers Say.")
"Human-generated social disruption has profound effects on important decision-making abilities in wild African elephants that are likely to impact key aspects of their social behavior," said Graeme Shannon, a University of Sussex psychologist who, along with colleague Karen McComb, led the study. More....