Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 57, Issue 4, pp 327–338 | Cite as

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

  • Russell A. CharifEmail author
  • Rob Roy RameyII
  • William R. LangbauerJr.
  • Katharine B. Payne
  • Rowan B. Martin
  • Laura M. Brown
Original Article


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 



This research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (grant no. BNS-8910482), World Wildlife Fund-US, the National Geographic Society (grant no. 3610-87), a Guggenheim Fellowship to Katharine Payne, and private contributions from the late John S. McIlhenny and Caroline Getty. The Zimbabwe Department of Parks and Wild Life Management made all of the facilities and personnel of the Sengwa Wildlife Research Institute (SWRI) available in support of the field work. This work would have been impossible without the able assistance in the field of the late Andrew Masarirevhu and twelve other game scouts of the SWRI. The late Ian Coulson, then director of the SWRI, and the entire staff of the SWRI supported this work logistically and scientifically. Loki Osborn and Lillie Wilson assisted with all aspects of the field work. Mike Kock supervised the immobilization of the elephants. Deborah Gibson flew aerial surveys. Helicopter time and fuel during collaring operations were donated by Mobil Oil Corporation. We thank Charles Walcott and Christopher Clark for their support of this work. Naomi Altman provided statistical advice. Kathy Dunsmore, Kurt Fristrup, Leila Hatch, Irby Lovette, Patricia Parker, Joyce Poole, Sandra Vehrencamp, and an anonymous reviewer made helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. The research described here complies with the current laws of Zimbabwe.

Supplementary material

Fig. S1 Utilization distributions (UDs) for 14 radio-collared elephants in three clans. Grayscale darkness of the plot indicates probability of occurrence at a given point. The contour lines on each map encompass the innermost 50% and 95% of each animal’s UD. The values plotted here are those used to calculate home range correlation values; Figure 3 in the main text shows a simplified representation of these data. Labels (cN) indicate each animal’s collar number. Letters (A – E) indicate mtDNA haplotypes

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Russell A. Charif
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rob Roy RameyII
    • 2
  • William R. LangbauerJr.
    • 3
  • Katharine B. Payne
    • 1
  • Rowan B. Martin
    • 4
  • Laura M. Brown
    • 2
  1. 1.Bioacoustics Research Program, Laboratory of OrnithologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Dept. of ZoologyDenver Museum of Nature & ScienceUSA
  3. 3.Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG AquariumUSA
  4. 4.GreendaleHarareZimbabwe

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