published on 17 July 2019 in

Asian elephants adapt to survive in human-modified areas

Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) are one of the species most threatened by burgeoning urbanisation. Indeed, expansion of urban areas is increasingly dividing up and reducing the natural habitat of Asian elephants, the population of which is constantly diminishing. However, a team of Indian researchers have discovered that these elephants are developing new behaviour patterns to allow them to survive in areas where the impact of human modification is greatest. According to a study entitled All-Male Groups in Asian Elephants: A Novel, Adaptive Social Strategy in Increasingly Anthropogenic Landscapes of Southern India, published in Scientific Reports, Asian elephants join forces in an attempt to survive in an increasingly human-modified world. The researchers have observed 248 male elephants of different age groups noting that, in areas where human presence is most marked, tend to form stable and long-term groups. It has also been observed that, in contrast with two decades ago, young elephants associate for long periods with older males, probably to learn from them how to avoid being killed by humans. Moreover, in order to improve their reproductive suitability, Asian elephants have developed a pronounced preference for cultivated crops rather than wild grasses, since they are more nutritious and abundant. Elephants therefore judge that it is worth running the risk of coming into conflict with human beings to guarantee a better survival of their species. Understanding the social complexity of elephants and their adaptability to the constantly changing environment may be the key to coexisting with humans, for example by developing more sustainable behaviours to mitigate conflicts between humans and elephants.

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