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Novel behaviour shown by an Asian elephant in the context of allomothering

Abstract

In the absence of large sample sizes, logistic difficulties, and, more importantly, knowledge about appropriate hypotheses to test cognition in elephants, reliable anecdotal observations from field studies are increasingly being realized as valuable in this context. I report here a novel behaviour shown by a subadult female in the context of allomothering. The observation was made as part of a long-term study of social organization and behaviour in free-ranging Asian elephants in southern India. A subadult, nulliparous female, Genette, while allomothering a calf, was confronted by the calf persistently trying to suck at Genette’s mammary glands. This was presumably uncomfortable for Genette, as evidenced by her reactions of avoiding, kicking, and nudging the calf away. She, however, started offering her trunk tip to the calf to suck, and this behaviour was seen repeatedly, with the calf actively sucking on it as if drinking milk. I discuss how this trunk-sucking behaviour differs from related behaviours previously seen in elephants and how this might be a case of problem solving.

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Acknowledgments

I am grateful to the Department of Science and Technology (Government of India) Ramanujan Fellowship, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Government of India, and National Geographic Society, USA, for funding the long-term study. JNCASR provided logistic support. I thank the Karnataka Forest Department, especially the PCCF and APCCF, and officials and staff of Nagarahole and Bandipur National Parks and Tiger Reserves, for field permits and support at the field site. Nandini Shetty and Keerthipriya P helped collect field data on associations. Krishna and Althaf provided field assistance.

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Correspondence to T. N. C. Vidya.

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Vidya, T.N.C. Novel behaviour shown by an Asian elephant in the context of allomothering. acta ethol 17, 123–127 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10211-013-0168-y

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