‘Elephants never forget’ has always been a popular saying, but few of us know exactly how true this saying actually is. Research has proven that these beautiful mammals actually do have excellent memories ‚Äď some believe elephants’ memories are even better than those of humans.
And it seems how older the elephant is the better their memory is; the matriarch, which is the oldest female and leader of a herd, uses her excellent memory as an advantage for the safety and survival of the entire group. Many examples of their excellent memory can be seen by observing them at the Addo Elephant Park or other¬†South African game reserves.
A herd of elephants consist of the matriarch – or the grandmother elephant – , daughters and granddaughters. Male elephants leave the herd when they reach “puberty” and mate with females from other herds. This is where the memory of the elephant serves the herd really well as the grandmother firsts decides whether an outsider may join the group. She does this not only by memory, but also bases her decision on the smell of the elephant and by its contact calls.
The matriarchs are known to build up a social memory as they get older which enables them to recognise “friendly” faces. She is the one who decides whether an outsider is a friend or a foe; this is a great safety tool for the herd. It also ensures the survival of the herd as more calves are born because the matriarch is able to allow the “friendly” faces to “visit” the group.
Male elephants, which travel either in small groups or alone, that the matriarch does not approve of, are met with anger and mothers stand defensively around their young while “screaming” at the male elephant or elephants. Elephants are much like humans when it comes to communication as they use their vocals immensely as a communication tool. When greeting other elephants or when in danger an elephant expresses itself most by his or her vocal reaction.
Research has shown that the amazing memory of the matriarch is especially important for the survival of the herd. Poachers tend to kill the bigger and older elephants and this ultimately decreases the survival of the entire group. Without the matriarch the herd has less control over who joins the group; the younger elephants need the older and wiser matriarch to make the decisions for the group.
An elephant’s memory also means that elephants grieve more or less than we do; they will not forget their loved one who has recently passed and are even known to gently touch the gravesite of the deceased.
Elephants are amazing animals and we can learn a lot about them and a lot from them; the way they communicate is absolutely incredible. Next time you visit the¬†Addo Elephant Park¬†in the Eastern Cape or any other game reserve in South Africa you’ll know more about how these animals communicate ‚Äď which makes the entire experience so much more interesting. You can also learn more about the¬†similarities between elephants and humans.