Elephant Behavior

A Lot of Bull

males bonding

Male elephants, called bull elephants, reach puberty around age 13, and leave the comfort of the breeding herd to head out on their own to propagate the species. Until recently, it was thought that they did not bond with other bull elephants once they left the highly communal breeding herd.  However, research conducted in Kenya and Namibia shows that many bulls have a “best friend” or hang out with a group of fellow bull elephants  (“How Male Elephants Bond”). The elephants in the photo above were certainly an example of male bonding.  I came upon them in Tanzania’s Serengeti on my recent trip, and watched the larger two engage in a friendship ritual for nearly an hour.  When two younger bulls joined them, they dialed up the level of  sparing, perhaps signalling the younger bulls to be respectful when in their presence.  Similar to the dynamic of a breeding herd, the more loosely-structured male groups have a hierarchy based on age and strength. It is logical to believe that younger bulls continue to learn from the older, more experienced bulls. While bull elephants go off on their own when entering musth — the highly agitated state a bull elephant enters when he is ready to mate — their isolation from other elephants is not as complete as many once thought. 

On another level of “a lot of bull,” writer Bryan Christy (author of National Geographic‘s highly acclaimed October 2012 cover story, “Blood Ivory“) writes on May 30:

“. . .In a recent poll conducted to supplement the National Geographic film Battle for the Elephants, 84 percent of Chinese middle class respondents said they intend to buy ivory in the future. They also said the number one reason they might stop buying ivory is if their government told them to stop. But the Chinese government is in the ivory business. It controls the country’s largest ivory carving factory as well as retail outlets. At a CITES meeting in Bangkok earlier this year, China’s delegate Wan Ziming of the State Forestry Administration (SFA) told CITES parties that ivory trafficking and elephant poaching were Africa’s problem, not China’s. He has condemned the ivory ban as ineffective, has pushed for more ivory sales to China, and has claimed it is reasonable to supply consumer countries with 200 tonnes of ivory a year.”  (click here for full report)

Any suggestion that China isn’t the single most important player in the ivory trade is just bull — and there seems to be a lot of that going around.  Christy opens his report by acknowledging the conviction of a major government-sanctioned ivory trader by the Chinese government.  However, he goes on to point out the many weaknesses in the CITES decisions that allow China to have a legal ivory market in the first place.  And that is no bull.