Original Article

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 57, Issue 4, pp 327-338

First online:

Spatial relationships and matrilineal kinship in African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) clans

  • Russell A. CharifAffiliated withBioacoustics Research Program, Laboratory of Ornithology, Cornell University Email author 
  • , Rob Roy RameyIIAffiliated withDept. of Zoology, Denver Museum of Nature & Science
  • , William R. LangbauerJr.Affiliated withPittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium
  • , Katharine B. PayneAffiliated withBioacoustics Research Program, Laboratory of Ornithology, Cornell University
  • , Rowan B. MartinAffiliated withGreendale
  • , Laura M. BrownAffiliated withDept. of Zoology, Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


African savanna elephants, Loxodonta africana, live in stable family groups consisting of adult females and their dependent offspring. During the dry season, “clans” consisting of several family groups typically share a common home range. We compared spatial relationships and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplotypes among 14 adult female elephants within 3 clans during the dry season in northern Zimbabwe. Spatial relationships were studied by radio-tracking. Home-range similarity was quantified by correlating the estimated utilization distributions of all pairs of elephants. Clans were identified by cluster analysis of the home-range similarity values. All three clans contained at least two of the five mtDNA haplotypes that were found, indicating that clan members are not necessarily matrilineally related. Within clans, home ranges of elephants with the same haplotype were not significantly more similar to each other than those of elephants with different haplotypes. Most elephants within each clan used their shared home ranges independently of each other: the distribution of distances between their positions at any given time did not differ from the distribution expected by chance. However, 8 out of the 26 within-clan pairs exhibited long-term coordination of space use by remaining within known hearing distance of each other’s low-frequency calls significantly more often than expected by chance. At least four of these coordinated pairs consisted of animals in different family groups. Elephants in three of the four different-family pairs whose movements were coordinated had different haplotypes. Further research is needed to determine the relationship between these coordinated movements and conventionally defined bond-group behavior.


African elephant Loxodonta africana Home range Utilization distribution Mitochondrial DNA