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Title: Bai use in forest elephants (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) : ecology, sociality & risk
Author: Fishlock, Victoria L.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2696 422X
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2010
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Forest elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) sociality is relatively little-studied due to the difficulties of making direct observations in rainforests. In Central Africa elephants aggregate at large natural forest clearings known as bais, which have been postulated to offer social benefits in addition to nutritional resources. This thesis explores the role of these clearings as social arenas by examining bai use within three main themes; ecology, sociality and risk factors. Seasonal changes in elephant use of the Maya Nord bai (Republic of Congo) are described, along with the demography of the visiting population. Elephant visit rate was highly variable; the number of elephants using Maya Nord in an observation day ranged from 0 to 117 animals. This variability was unrelated to local resource availability and productivity suggesting that bai use occurs year round. Elephants in Odzala-Kokoua do not show high fidelity to a single clearing; 454 elephants were individually identified and re-sighted an average of 1.76 times (range 1-10) during the twelve month study period. Previous bai studies have yet to quantify how elephants associate with one another within the bai area. This study examines socio-spatial organisation and associate choice using two measures of association within the 0.23 km2 bai area; aggregations (all elephants present in the clearing) and parties (elephants spatially co-ordinated in activity and movement) and distinguishes these from parties that range together (i.e. arrive and leave together). Social network analyses (SocProg) were used to describe inter- and intra-sexual multi-level organisation in the bai environment, and to illustrate the non-random nature of elephant aggregations and parties. Bais were shown to function as social arenas; female elephants showed active choice of certain associates and active avoidance of others when creating parties, whereas males were less discriminatory. Parties formed in the clearing (mean size= 3.93, SE= 0.186) were larger than ranging parties (mean size= 2.71, SE= 0.084) and elephants stayed for 50% longer in the clearing when they associated with individuals from outside their ranging party. Inter- and intra-sexual relationships were maintained within the clearing, and these are suggested to offer elephants essential opportunities for social learning. The patterning and nature of the relationships observed at the Maya Nord clearing indicates that forest elephants use a fission-fusion social structure similar to that of savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana africana); relationships are significantly structured by age- and sex- and underpinned by individual identity. Old experienced females hold key roles for forest elephants, and male relationships are superimposed on the network of female associations. Odzala-Kokoua elephants use bais to maintain their social relationships despite being highly sensitive to the anthropogenic risks involved in using these open areas. The results of this study suggest that forest and savannah elephants lie on the same social continuum, balancing social “pulls” to aggregate against the ecological “pushes” that force groups to fission. Previous models of savannah elephant sociality construct levels of association and social complexity upwards from the basic mother-calf unit (e.g. Wittemyer & Getz 2007). My results suggest that it may be more appropriate to consider elephant sociality and associations as in dynamic equilibrium between social and ecological influences acting at all levels of grouping, and to explicitly test how these underlie the opportunity costs that elephants are willing to pay in order to maintain social groupings.
Supervisor: Lee, Phyllis C. ; Caldwell, Christine A. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: African elephant Behavior ; Social behavior in animals ; Rain forest animals Africa, Central Geographical distribution ; Rain forest ecology Africa, Central