The real social network experts are elephants

We’re recently back from an unforgettable three weeks in Sri Lanka where we were lucky enough to see wild Asian elephants close-up in their natural habitat. That’s why I was fascinated to see (via the Daily Mail!) some new research that shows that elephants have larger social networks of ‘friends’ than scientists previously thought. Previous studies had shown that elephants usually live in small groups centred around females and youngsters while adult males live independently.

The new study shows that while this is true there are also a wider and more complex network of friends, relatives and acquaintances that go beyond the smaller group. It also shows that, just like humans, some elephants are more sociable than others.

It would be fascinating to know if Dunbar’s number also applies to elephants and if they can sustain social relationships of more than 150 (Dunbar’s number states that for humans it’s between 100 and 230, with 150 the most commonly used value). And elephants manage to maintain all these friendships and relationships without the help of Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+. How do they do it?

The research was published in BMC Ecology and conducted by Dr Sherman de Silva from the University of Pennsylvania. She conducted the research in the Uda Walalwe National Park in Sri Lanka.

I took the photographs in Minneriya National Park and Yala National Park.