Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • If I were to distill the 20 years of elephant research

  • that I've done

  • into one sentence,

  • what would it be?

  • What could I tell you?

  • I would say that elephants are just like us!

  • And what do I mean by that?

  • It takes a lot of patience

  • to be out there in the field

  • and trying to figure out patterns

  • of these very slow and intelligent animals.

  • But over time, it is true they are very similar to us.

  • And you think, "Well, how can I say that?

  • Look, they have huge ears,

  • they have really long noses.

  • What do you mean they're like us?"

  • Well, in fact, their families are very similar to ours.

  • And family is extremely important to elephants.

  • They grow up in very tight-knit families

  • and they have extended families.

  • And it's just like our family reunions

  • where you have all the aunts gathering around

  • with all the food they're going to bring and plan,

  • and all the boys are thinking,

  • "Are we going to play our video games together?

  • Are we going to spar?"

  • It's very, very similar,

  • and it's jubilant, and screaming, yelling, it's really amazing to see.

  • But, as soon as you get that family gathering,

  • it's just like a wedding or anything else,

  • all of the sudden the family politics come out,

  • and the lower-ranking individuals in this scene,

  • you see the arrow off to the back,

  • the lower-ranking individuals already know their station,

  • they're going to drink at the muddiest part of the pan

  • because the whole family's here and we can't drink at the best water

  • because that's reserved for the top-ranking family.

  • What's also very similar

  • is that you have elders in the group

  • that everyone reveres.

  • This is the matriarch,

  • and the other female is reaching over

  • and doing what's called a trunk to mouth

  • placing her trunk in the mouth,

  • and it's a sign of respect,

  • it's kind of like a handshake,

  • but it's also like a salute.

  • And this salute is learned at a very young age.

  • Now, ritual and bonding within the family

  • also facilitates coordinated activities.

  • So, here's a young female whose calf has fallen into the trough

  • and she doesn't know what to do and she panics.

  • Well, the older female, that's the matriarch,

  • she says, "No problem here," she just scoops the baby out.

  • Now, that's not true for a lot of different families,

  • they can't coordinate very well,

  • the younger females don't really know what to do,

  • but the older ones will just get down,

  • kneel down together and pick the baby out.

  • Another thing that's very similar

  • is the coming of age of teenage boys.

  • Male elephants at the age of about 12 to 15.

  • The biggest elephant in this photograph here

  • is an elephant who's about the leave the family.

  • He gets too big, he gets a little fresh,

  • the adult females had enough of him,

  • but he also is independent,

  • he wants to go out and play with the guys.

  • So what happens then is that you have this all male society,

  • very ritual male society.

  • Greg is our main dominate bull here,

  • you can see him in the middle.

  • He's got a huge posse, his following reveres him.

  • And it's very interesting how very good leaders,

  • very good dominate individuals

  • know how to tie trade the carrot and the stick.

  • This guy's a master at it,

  • and there's other bullies out there

  • that want to kind of want to create their own little following,

  • but they can't do it because they're too agressive.

  • And so when he's not around

  • they try and sweet talk the underlings to come into their fold,

  • and they actually become less agressive.

  • So it's very interesting to see how politics play out

  • in these male and female societies.

  • Now back to the ladies here.

  • In a core family group you'll have a mother,

  • maybe even a grandmother,

  • her daughters and all of their offspring,

  • the male and female calves.

  • And what's very interesting here

  • is that how character makes a difference.

  • So each matriarch has a very different character.

  • These two characters are kind of curious,

  • they're uncertain,

  • whereas these other two characters are really agressive.

  • "We're going to charge first, ask questions later."

  • But then there are also matriarchs that say,

  • "Forget it! I'm going to run first

  • and then figure it out when we're in the bush

  • and it's safe."

  • But the wisest matriarch,

  • the matriarchs that succeed best

  • in all of the studies that have been done,

  • is the one that assesses the danger

  • and decides is this worth running away from

  • or is this not a big deal at all.

  • Now being social is super important for elephants

  • and of course right at the beginning,

  • just like early childhood development,

  • socialization is very important.

  • Bathing together, eating together, playing together,

  • rough housing, this is all very important

  • for social development.

  • And who hasn't tried to beat their sibling

  • to the head of the line coming into the water hole?

  • And these relationships from the beginning

  • is just like best friends forever for real.

  • These females are going to live together for life.

  • Now if it's a male, female they might know each other for life,

  • but it's really important to develop those bonds early on.

  • Those are the relationships that are going to save you later.

  • I'll show you a little schoolyard scenario here.

  • Where, I think if you just focus on what's happening here

  • you can see that we have the bully,

  • he's pulling on the trunk of this baby calf,

  • and then we have the diplomat

  • who's reaching over and saying,

  • "No, don't do that! Stop doing that!"

  • And then, of course, we have the bystander.

  • And how do you get these three different characters

  • within the family?

  • It's kind of fascinating to think that elephants

  • really are just like us.

  • And so I got curious about this

  • and I thought, "Well, what if you measure

  • the difference in character of a dominate female's calf

  • versus a lower-ranking female's calf,

  • and see what happens in their growing up."

  • And so we started doing this.

  • And you can see this little guy with his ears out,

  • really charging at you.

  • The difference between that character

  • and the character who holds back,

  • wants to touch mom,

  • isn't so certain about what's going on here.

  • But the other one's charging ahead all confident.

  • Well, we started measuring how far away

  • a calf will stray from mom,

  • how often do they touch others,

  • how often do they initiate play,

  • and then look at the dominance of the females, of their mothers.

  • And what we found is that socializing with the dominate calves

  • actually socialize more significantly more than the lower-ranking calves.

  • And what it looks like is

  • it's not that the lower-ranking calves don't want to play,

  • they're actually not allowed to interact

  • with the higher-ranking calves.

  • They get swatted away from the dominate females.

  • and so this is kind of the downside of,

  • okay we are very much like elephants,

  • elephants are as much like us,

  • but it's kind of for better or for worse

  • because I can also see this happening in humans

  • and maybe we should take a lesson from that.

  • One last thing that we found

  • is that the males will be the risk-takers,

  • they're more independent

  • and they're more likely to spend more time away from mom.

  • And that's very true in human societies

  • and with other social animals.

  • So I hope I've convinced you

  • that we have very similar lives to elephants

  • and that elephants have very individual, durable

  • characters that we've measured across years.

  • The bully always tends to be the bully

  • unless there's some kind of social upset,

  • and he decides he better be a softy

  • or else he's not going to gain favor at all.

  • And then you have the gentle giants

  • that are always going to be gentle.

  • The young males really need mentoring from the elders,

  • and those gentle giants are very good at doing that,

  • soliciting them.

  • Leaving family is a really hard things for the males,

  • but they survive and they figure out who to hang out with.

  • So, just to end here, I just wanted to say that

  • since they are so similar to us,

  • and have these characters,

  • I hope when you see them on TV

  • or you go out and you're lucky enough to see them in the wild,

  • that maybe you'll think of them

  • as individual characters deserving of our attention,

  • and also deserving of our protection. Thank you.

If I were to distill the 20 years of elephant research

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 TED-Ed ranking female family calf dominate

【TED-Ed】The family structure of elephants - Caitlin O'Connell-Rodwell

  • 175 5
    richardwang posted on 2014/04/17
Video vocabulary