National Geographic : 2010 Jun
PHOTO: O'CONNELL & RODWELL ART: ALDO CHIAPPE WILD NG GRANTEE Male Bonding In the matriarchal world of elephants, males are known as mostly independent sorts. Females maintain close, lifelong family ties, while bulls tend to wander off solo, at times band- ing with another male or more loosely with groups of them. Or do they? During a six- year study in Namibia's Etosha National Park, Stanford University behavioral ecologist Caitlin O'Connell-Rodwell observed for the first time intense, long-lasting bonds among a dozen or so bulls---a tight-knit group of teenagers, adults, and seniors up to 55 she's dubbed the Boys' Club. Older males serve as mentors and mediators for younger ones, enforcing a strict social hierarchy and keeping under- lings in line when hormones rage and rowdiness may erupt. In drought-prone Namibia, rank becomes most rigid when water is scarcest. "In dry years the strict pecking order they establish benefits all of them, " O'Connell-Rodwell says. "Everyone knows their place. " That means young bulls supplicate more frequently to their elders---and peace is maintained while everyone gets to drink. ---Hannah Bloch Like arm-wrestling kids, elephants will test their strength against peers---and sometimes trusted elders. Two males' entwined trunks signal friendship and trust. A junior elephant (right) greets a senior with deference, placing its trunk tip into the elder's mouth. An over-the-head caress by a dominant elephant is akin to human hair tousling, says O'Connell-Rodwell. TRUNK TALK Close-up communication is done vocally and via smell and touch. These gestures show affection. Learn more about wildlife on the new Nat Geo Wild network. Visit natgeowild.com.