Young elephants behaviour

Wed, 2011-10-26 18:31 by Alexandre · Forum/category:

Hi all, I’m new to this website but I’m liking it a lot already. I have a question: I saw, some time ago, a documentary regarding elephants, and it talked about how young elephants sometimes “gang up” and attack young rhinoceros, killing them in what looks a lot like some sort of “ritual killing”. I’m interested in this kind of “victimal” behaviour, but cannot find anything at all on the internet. I found similar behaviours for wolves and dolphins, but cannot find any information regarding elephants. Any idea where I could find information about this, it would help a lot. Thank you!


English is not my first language, so I apologize for any mistake or made-up word.

Rampaging males

Thu, 2011-10-27 07:13 by Elephant2011

Hi, pleased to meet you!

From what i have seen on documentary channels, the most cases are that rhinoceros are killed by young male elephants in musth (i.e musth is the period whereby the male elephants are in the mood to mate and fight due to their testosterone levels increasing by nearly 60% than normal making them very aggressive animals). These young males often leave their families and start living on their own and when they enter musth they become very aggressive towards any other creature they come across and in this case rhinos. The young males often try to play with the rhinos but their behaviour changes to violence and they end of spearing the rhinos with their tusks. I have seen in documentary channels that some solution to this 'rampaging males' is to add fully mature adult bull elephants into the area, who can keep the young males in check and reduce their aggression.

I hope this helps

Aggressive young males

Thu, 2011-10-27 13:00 by Vicki


Welcome to the ATE forum! I'm so pleased to hear your like the website. It's so nice to have people post questions and answers on here.

Actually these kinds of cases are extremely rare. I think you're both referring to Pilanesberg National Park, in South Africa, where young males did indeed attack and kill rhinos. However, these males were the orphans of culling and had lost their entire family and normal social structure, so they were highly abnormal in many ways. In fact, they also performed misdirected sexual behaviours and it's possible that part of the attacks were motivated by their generaly frustration and confusion. It's true that when young males begin their musth periods, the sudden influx of hormones makes them extremely restless and that the increased testosterone males experience during musth does make them more aggressive. However, these young bulls have already left their families - in fact, males shouldn't start beginning musth periods until well after they leave their family group, and have begun to establish themselves in male society. In Pilanesberg these young bulls effectively turned "delinquent", perhaps as a result of their past traumatic experiences, coupled with the fact they lacked older males to suppress and regulate their behaviour, as older males do hormonally suppress younger bulls, as well as physically dominating them. The situation was brought back under some level of control by the introduction of older, larger bulls who then dominated the social and reproductive situation: i.e. made the social scale much more normal and balanced.

I would hasten to add that nobody in their right mind takes a chance with any musth bull because they are unpredictable, but it's certainly not true that every single musth bull goes around killing other animals. Elephants are usually intolerant of other animals close to them, and sometimes do attack other animals, but I certainly wouldn't describe any kind of ritualistic killing by elephants.

For more information about social disruption, you can check out a 2005 article in Science called "Elephant Breakdown", by Bradshaw et al., which is co-authored by Amboseli researchers. There are also some scientific journal articles on what happened in Pilanesberg. Also, keep following my blog on the IFAW website (and via Facebook and this website).

Hope this helps!



Thank you all for your

Thu, 2011-10-27 19:50 by Alexandre

Thank you all for your answers. I don’t really think it was a case of musth, the elephants were really little, they had no tusks even, and it wasn’t a case of a solitary bull or anything, it was something like 6 / 7 baby elephants charging the baby rhino and killing it, in what the documentary presented as a sort of “game” turned bad. I did read that “elephant breakdown” article, which is fascinating, but these baby elephants still had their parents, or at least the documentary didn’t refer to any trauma and the baby elephants were seen being taken care of by adult elephants.
Thanks again, I’ll keep looking, and of course any suggestion is welcome :)

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