African elephants have expectations about the locations of out-of-sight family members

Biol Lett. 2008 Feb 23;4(1):34-6. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2007.0529.


Monitoring the location of conspecifics may be important to social mammals. Here, we use an expectancy-violation paradigm to test the ability of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) to keep track of their social companions from olfactory cues. We presented elephants with samples of earth mixed with urine from female conspecifics that were either kin or unrelated to them, and either unexpected or highly predictable at that location. From behavioural measurements of the elephants' reactions, we show that African elephants can recognize up to 17 females and possibly up to 30 family members from cues present in the urine-earth mix, and that they keep track of the location of these individuals in relation to themselves.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal* / physiology
  • Cues
  • Elephants* / physiology
  • Female
  • Smell / physiology
  • Social Behavior*