Matriarchs

An elephant herd like the one pictured above is actually a big family unit led by the single oldest female in the group.  Scientists call this elephant the matriarch.  She spends her days surrounded by her younger sisters and by her own grown daughters, both of which usually have babies of their own.  The whole family works together to care for each other and to protect their young ones.  This means that elephants are one of the few animals on earth that live in a society of grand parents. 


photo M. Noonan
Three generations being together in a human family is a common occurrence

This is something that we take for granted in human families.  However, it is a very unusual trait.  Individuals of most animal species either don’t live long enough, or don’t stay together long enough, for any individual to get to know their offspring as adults, let alone to have an opportunity to care for their offsprings’ offspring as grandparents.  Humans are really very unusual in this regard. 

And so are elephants.  In the group below, the matriarch is the one on the right.  She is 45-years old and very experienced.  Her two grown daughters are standing in the rear while two of her granddaughters are standing to her right.  Just as it is among people, the presence of a grandmother like this is a very normal and common aspect of life among elephants. 

 
photo M. Noonan
An elephant matriarch (right), with daughter and granddaughters

 

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