Elephant Social Groups

  • A herd of elephants

    Elephants live in structured, but fluid, social groups.

    Social groups among male elephants

    The males are mostly solitary, hanging out on the fringes of herds, or temporarily joining together with other males in “bachelor herds” which tend to be small and unstable. They are led by the oldest, or strongest male elephants, who travel at the front and rear to protect the herd. Single male elephants will also associate themselves with non-family herds, moving around different ones daily, mostly on the hunt for females in heat.

    Social groups among female elephants

    Female elephants are much more social, and there a few distinct social groups:

    • The Family Unit

    The most important, consisting of two or more related females and their young. These groups range in size from just two elephants, to perhaps fifty. Under the supervision and control of the eldest female, the matriarch, the group works together to help with finding food and water, mutual defence, and caring for the young.

    • Bond (or Kinship) Groups

    Created when family units join up with others that are closely related (kin), or unrelated ones with whom they are friendly (bond). These groups can number up to one hundred.

    • Clan

    A clan is a mixture of family and bond groups who are ranging around the same dry season area, when resources are scarce. The clan can be made up of hundreds of elephants. When times are not so hard, elephants will still often choose to be in large groups, with some clans even joining together and intermingling for mutual benefit, and for a more stimulating social life. These large groupings occur more frequently in African elephants than they do with Asian elephants.