Asian elephant is a true social networker

Until recently it was assumed that Asian elephants, as compared to their African cousins, are not very social. Research by Sri Lankan scientists has now shown that they are true social networkers.
African elephants live in large, intimate herds. By contrast, Asian elephants were thought to have only three companions. The assumption was that Asian elephants have few good connections beyond their small groups. Research has shown, however, that they maintain superficial contact with many friends and acquaintances outside of their direct living groups. For two years, 286 female Asian elephants in Udawalawe National Park were observed. Details of the social contacts of 51 elephants were noted. It was discovered that it was not unusual for an elephant to have ten or more friends, and some of them kept up as many as fifty relationships. According to the researchers, sometimes friends don’t see each other for a year, but when they run into each other it ‘clicks’ as it did before. And that is clever, as maintaining a relationship in the absence of daily contact requires quite a lot from the brain. Apparently Asian elephants have no trouble with it.

The relationships between the elephants are neither unstable nor fleeting. Research shows that elephants with the most friends are the most likely to drop them, whereas elephants with fewer friends are more loyal. Remarkably, elephants can maintain contact without seeing each other physically. They can communicate by way of sound and by chemicals secreted onto other elephants.