An African elephant never forgets - especially when it comes to the loss of its kin, according to researchers at the University of Washington. Their findings, published online in the journal, Molecular Ecology, reveal that the negative effects of poaching persist for decades after the killing has ended.
"Our study shows that it takes a long time -more than 20 years - for a family who has lost its kin to rebuild," said lead researcher Kathleen Gobush, Ph.D., a research ecologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency and a former doctoral student at the University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology.
African elephants rely heavily on matriarchs
African elephants rely heavily on matriarchs to lead groups and keep families together. Before the 1989 ban on ivory trade, nearly 75 percent of all elephants in Tanzania's Mikumi National Park were killed. Poachers targeted those with the largest tusks - particularly older matriarchs. "A lot of these females lost their sisters and mothers, and were left living a solitary existence," said Sam Wasser, Ph.D., director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington. "So the question became, what are the long-term impacts on the genetic relatedness of groups?"
Tracking more than 100 groups of elephants
In search of an answer, the scientists tracked more than 100 groups of elephants living in Mikumi National Park. They assessed the lasting effects of poaching on group size, relatedness, and social bonding by comparing information about each group with previous reports of protected populations. More....