Elephant Herd Behavior

Elephants are magnificent animals. As the largest land animals, they also have the largest brain of any land animal, meaning they are exceptionally smart creatures. They have three times as many neurons as humans, and while they do need a significant amount to simply control their large and dexterous bodies, they have also demonstrated just how impressive their mental capabilities are.

These peaceful animals are also social creatures and tend to move around in herds, traveling together to find food and water. The behavioral dynamics within the herds are quite fascinating. Generally speaking, an elephant herd is mainly made up of females and baby elephants. When the male baby elephants hit adolescence (usually between 10-19 years old), they leave their herd and begin to lead the life of a solitary bull elephant.

 

The herd looks to the matriarch elephant when in danger, and relies on her wisdom and experience to find water or food sources, and safety. They also play and socialize throughout the day, displaying affection by caressing each other’s trunks, and squirting each other playfully. They also have their own unique ways of communicating. While we’re familiar with the sound of trumpeting, elephants also use vibrations, known as rumbles, to communicate with one another.

Elephants have extremely strong social bonds like humans. They have been observed to mourn the death of their herd members. They do this by exploring the body and spend a lot of time standing around near it – which is unusual since their time is precious because of the volume of food that they need to consume. They also secrete from their temporal glands, which is usually associated with elephants experiencing elevated levels of emotion such as excitement or stress.

 

Two elephants playing water in the river

Getty Images / Moment / wootthisak nirongboot

The most exciting thing that can happen in an elephant family is the birth of a new baby elephant. The members of the herd rush to greet the new calf with pure joy, and vocalize their excitement. They crowd around the new baby caressing it, and once again secretions are seen from their temporal glands, as the herd celebrates the new arrival.