Asian Elephants Social Characteristics

Submitted by Naturenomics Team on Wed, 29/06/2016 - 10:05
Article sourced from International Elephant Foundation org.

Male behaviour

By contrast, adult males tend to be solitary, or may form temporary associations of two or three unrelated bulls. They leave the family of their birth at 12-15 years of age and after that time, although they may frequently associate with female groups for feeding or mating, they have no long term bonds with them, or with each other.

Female behaviour

Within the female groups, a few older individuals, and in particular the lead individual, termed the matriarch, are instrumental in deciding the group’s pattern of movement, in defending the group against danger, and in monitoring and responding to other approaching elephants. Calves, especially when very young, stay close to their mother, but all females in the group will aid with in their upbringing. At the approach of a predator, adult females wheel round to face the source of danger, protecting the calves that stay close behind. The members of the family unit may separate for short intervals during the day, but will soon regroup. Family units also form looser associations, or “bond groups”, with more distantly related families. These come together particularly during migration, but even then, individual family groups maintain their integrity within the larger mass of animals.

Activity Cycle : In a study of Asian Elephants at Lahugala Tank, males were recorded as having the following activity cycle: 

91.1% = Feeding

5.4% = Walking

1.4% = Resting

1.8% = Bathing 

0.1% = Drinking

0.2% = All other activities

Another study at Lahagula Tank records the following activity cycle of solitary males:

93.5% = Feeding

1.9% = Walking

0.3% = Contact promoting

3.3% = Play/Aggression

1.0% = All other activities

  • Female elephant herds spend 70-90% of time feeding.
  • Male activity shows one peak at around 8 am and another between 4-5 pm. Female herds peak around 10 am and then later between 3:30 and 6 pm.
  • In a study at Ceylon's Wilpattu National Park for individuals described as secretive and shy
  • Feeding is intermittent during 24 hour period
  • Drinking is typically early evening and just before daybreak
  • Long distance travel usually accomplished at night

Territory Size:

  • No evidence of territoriality
  • Home range size usually small, similar to African Elephants (approx. 14-52
  • Shifts locale with wet/dry season
  • Availability of resources (water, food, mates) and human presence all influence home range size
  • Female groups may overlap and coordinate migrations.

Social Groups:

  • Highly social animals with extremely complex behaviors; highly developed (Moss et al 2011):
  • Emphathetic behavior
  • Problem solving and tool use
  • Communications between individuals
  • A matriarch, typically the eldest female, heads a related group of females.
  • Study of female groups's genetics at Ruhuna National Park in Sri Lanka show all individuals related to a single female
  • Herds consist of about 8-12 individuals, but sizes can vary. (African Elephant groups: 10 to 20 individuals)
  • Life centers around the calves in both African and Asian elephant societies.
  • Females share equally in the care of the young.
  • Teenage males leave natal herd & often form bachelor groups
  • Adult male typically described as solitary; no close bonds with other independent males; spend time in families only when following females in estrus
  • New studies show the males form loose associations


  • Bulls in musth once or twice a year may display aggressive behavior
  • Having a male in musth decreases aggressive behavior of other males
  • Aggressive behaviors include: spreading ears; raising head with jaw "tucked in", mock charging, abrupt head shake which makes ears flap, throwing objects in direction of opponent
  • Elephant charge: up to 40 km/hr (25mph)


  • Male calves are more likely to leave mothers to play; engage in head sparring, mounting, charging, shoving, and chasing
  • Female calves play chasing and running games, throw sticks, and may “attack” imaginary enemies.

Interspecies Interaction

  • Do not appear frightened by other animals; usually ignore them
  • Confrontations with Indian rhinoceros probably very rare in wild, but have occurred with domestic elephants that have been ridden into rhino's territory
  • Mutualistic relationship with some species of birds, such as egrets and piapiac.
  • Birds use elephants as a vantage point to spot prey; pick off ticks or lice attached to the elephant.
  • Host several parasites, including louse, warble flies, mosquitoes and leeches
  • Prodigious amounts of dung disperses many seeds and helps enrich soils
  • Dung beetles and termites carry dung underground
  • Like the African Elephant, function in role of ecosystem "engineer" and as a keystone species
  • Maintain trails and open access to water for other species
  • Create microhabitats by shredding trees for small vertebrate species such as lizards
  • Uproot small trees (which would invade open grassland areas, shifting habitat to new forests)
  • Enhances habitat for other grazing animals and their predators


  • Move with one basic gait, known as the rack or pace (three feet are on the ground most of the time)
  • One foot always on ground
  • Normal walking speed 2.5-3.7 mph (4-6 km/hr). Charging speed can reach 15.2 mph (6.8 meters/sec) (Hutchinson 2006)
  • Move very slowly while feeding, or walk quickly. Juveniles may run when playing, but adults only run in flight or attack.
  • Swim readily at rate of 1.3 mph (2 km/hr). Can stay afloat for up to 6 hours and cover distances of 30 miles (48 km) at a stretch
  • Can not jump; even a shallow ditch poses a barrier
  • Can not trot, canter, or gallop.

Tool Use

  • May use branches and plant fronds to swat flies, dislodge parasites, scratch an itch
  • Known to drop boulders on fences to destroy them or to cut off electricity

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