Granny Elephants Are The Best Grandparents Around

Animals |

As of 2012, the percentage of children living in a home run by a grandparent has increased from roughly 3% to around 7% -- that figures out to about 5 million grandkids getting some TLC from their grandparents. It turns out that humans are not the only creatures that acknowledge their grandparents; elephants do too. Elephants often live in large family groups, which include babies, juveniles, and females. They are also matriarchal families, often led by the oldest of the females that subsequently usually means that particular female holds a very important social role inside the family dynamic. 

Professor Phyllis Lee, conducted research on the social working of the pachyderm family group and found something surprising – having a grandmother made a difference in whether a baby survived. "It was an unexpected finding for us," stated Lee. "We didn't think we'd find that very positive relationship between having a grandmother present and how well the daughters were doing in terms of reproduction."

In most cases in the animal kingdom, living and reproducing go hand in hand. The only time one stops having offspring is when the bearing animal dies. This makes elephants, which can live many years after their reproducing years, a rare find. Elephants can live up to 70 years; while most animals do not live long enough to see their grandchildren; even if they do it is highly unlikely the recognize them as such, much in the way elephants and humans recognize their grandchildren.

In man animal species, the mother and grandmother will end up competing for resources in order to survive, if they are residing in the same area. This is not the case with elephants. Professor Lee points out that, “Elephants are really nice and supportive.” However, you may be wondering why there is only talk of grandmother elephants. Well, bringing the bad news, male elephants usually go off on their own once they reach puberty. While they live just as long as their female counterparts do, male elephants do not play a pivotal family role.

What exactly do pachyderm grandmas do? They help protect the baby, keep an eye on it, and help it if it happens to be stuck. Outside of that, grandmother elephants are often times the leader of the family. They lead their family to the right places to forage for food or drink, and even lead them in proper elephant social protocol when interacting with other elephant families. 

Lee’s research used an elephant size amount of data by studying more than 800 individual elephants, in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. While elephant watching is not new, researchers have been studying elephants and their behavior in Amboseli for over forty years. Of course, when you are studying an animal that can live as long as a human, those of the kinds of numbers and records you need to consider. Although with that large amount of data, one would think that would be enough; not so, according to Lee who states, “We’re only halfway there, we need another40 years of data.” 

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Amy Haren


Amy comes from a family of literary geniuses. Her mother and father were published many times in many different publications throughout the world for not only their stories but their photos. Growing up reading the stories her parents wrote, Amy fell in love with animals and travel. She travels when she can and usually heads for the jungles or oceans.