Elephant Social Life: Herd Structure

Asian elephants are highly intelligent, social creatures, with complex communication methods and a hierarchical social structure within their herd. Typically, Asian elephants live in small herds of females and young males, often comprised exclusively of related elephants. Herd size depends largely on the ready availability of food and other resources, although it is common for a herd to be comprised of around 6-7 individuals.

Within the herd, each elephant will be aware of their status within the hierarchical order, with the most dominant role usually reserved for the oldest female. This female is known as the ‘Matriarch’ of the herd, and – though her role is less concretely defined in Asian elephant herds than their African counterparts – she will lead, defend, guide, teach, and punish the other elephants in her herd when necessary.

When male elephants reach puberty, usually between the ages of 8 and 12 years, it is customary for them to leave the herd and seek their own territory. This move is often desirable to the young male, as they will be experiencing hormonal changes along with increased feelings of competitiveness, independence, and aggression. However, if the adolescent male is reluctant to leave the herd, he may be encouraged or forcibly ejected by the females, who will not tolerate unchecked aggression within the herd. After leaving the herd, males may form small herds with other males of a similar age, or they may seek to become fully independent.
The Matriarch Project