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Elephant Enigmas

July 15, 2021

Elephant Enigmas

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Tim Davenport Tim Davenport

There are many reasons that African elephants, Loxodonta africana, are a joy to work with in the bush including their mercurial characters and very distinct personalities. Living in such tight social groups as these giants do, character traits are often passed on or learned through the generations. If the matriarch is a certain way, the rest of the group often follows suit.

One of the 35 or more groups that we have studied in and around Tarangire National Park for more than two decades illustrates this well. “J Group”, from the ecosystem’s northern population, is led by 63-year-old Jill. Unlike most individuals in the north of the park that are used to vehicles and very calm, Jill has an axe to grind. Whether something happened to her many years ago, we do not know, but let her get too close to the vehicle, and she will charge. She also rarely gives any warning signs; rather, will just suddenly make her disapproval felt very clearly.

Being the matriarch means that the rest of the group (including her daughters Julie, Joy, Joyce, Josephine, Jinx, Jelly, and Jamila) have learned that charging a vehicle is the right thing to do to. J Group is always best observed from a distance.

I took this photograph in late June in Tarangire, and it shows Jill (in the middle) flanked by Julie (26) and Joy (43).

, Africa Map It


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