Elephant resource-use traditions



Fishlock V, Caldwell CA & Lee PC (2016) Elephant resource-use traditions. Animal Cognition, 19 (2), pp. 429-433.

African elephants (Loxodonta africana) use unusual and restricted habitats such as swampy clearings, montane outcrops and dry rivers for a variety of social and ecological reasons. Within these habitats elephants focus on very specific areas for resource exploitation, resulting in deep caves, large forest clearings and sand pits as well as long-established and highly demarcated routes for moving between resources. We review evidence for specific habitat exploitation in elephants and suggest that this represents socially learned cultural behaviour. Although elephants show high fidelity to precise locations over the very long term, these location preferences are explained neither by resource quality nor by accessibility. Acquiring techniques for exploiting specific resource sites requires observing conspecifics and practice, and is evidence for social learning. Elephants possess sophisticated cognitive capacities used to track relationships and resources over their long lifespans and they have an extended period of juvenile dependency as a result of the need to acquire this considerable social and ecological knowledge. Thus, elephant fidelity to particular sites results in traditional behaviour over generations, with the potential to weaken relationships between resource quality and site preferences. Illustrating the evidence for such powerful traditions in a species such as elephants contributes to understanding animal cognition in natural contexts.

elephant; social learning; traditions; cumulative culture

Animal Cognition: Volume 19, Issue 2

Publication date31/03/2016
Publication date online10/09/2015
Date accepted by journal01/09/2015

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Professor Christine Anna Caldwell

Professor Christine Anna Caldwell

Professor & Deputy Dean of Faculty, Psychology