Proof that giraffes are a highly socially complex species – as socially sophisticated as elephants

A Rothschild mother’s giraffe tending to her baby. The photo was taken at Soysambu Conservancy in the Rift Valley region of Kenya. Giraffes are attentive mothers to their offspring, and all adult females in a group are invested in the offspring of others. Credit: Zoe Muller

Scientists at the University of Bristol have found evidence that giraffes are a very socially complex species.

Traditionally, giraffes were believed to have little or no social structure and fleeting and weak relationships. However, over the past decade, research has shown that the giraffe’s social organization is much more advanced than previously thought.

In an article published on August 2, 2021 in the journal Examination of mammals, Zoe Muller, of the School of Biological Sciences in Bristol, has shown that giraffes spend up to 30% of their lives in a post-reproductive state. This is comparable to other species with very complex social structures and cooperative care, such as elephants and killer whales which spend 23% and 35% of their lives respectively in a post-reproductive state. In these species, the presence of postmenopausal females has been shown to provide survival benefits for related offspring.

In mammals – including humans – this is called the “grandmother’s hypothesis” which suggests that females live well past menopause so they can help raise successive generations of offspring. , thus ensuring the preservation of their genes. The researchers propose that the presence of post-breeding adult female giraffes could also function in the same way, and support the author’s claim that giraffes are likely to engage in cooperative parenting, along lineage. maternal care, and to contribute to the shared parental care of related parents.

Giraffes in group

Giraffes in group. Credit: Zoe Muller

Zoe said: “It’s puzzling to me that such a large, iconic and charismatic African species has been under-studied for so long. This article brings together all the evidence to suggest that giraffes are actually a very complex social species, with complex and highly functional social systems, potentially comparable to elephants, cetaceans and chimpanzees.

“I hope this study draws a line in the sand, from which giraffes will be seen as intelligent group-living mammals that have developed complex and very successful societies, which have facilitated their survival in difficult and crowded ecosystems. predators. ”

In order for scientists to recognize giraffes as a socially complex species, Zoe suggested eight key areas for future research, including the need to understand the role that older adults play in post-breeding society and the benefits they play. bring for group survival.

Zoe added, “Recognizing that giraffes have a complex cooperative social system and live in matrilineal societies will allow us to better understand their behavioral ecology and conservation needs.

“Conservation measures will be more effective if we have a precise understanding of the behavioral ecology of the species. If we think of giraffes as a very socially complex species, it also elevates their “status” to that of a more complex and intelligent mammal that increasingly deserves protection. “

Reference: “A review of the social behavior of the giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis: a poorly understood but socially complex species ”by Zoe Muller and Professor Stephen Harris, August 2, 2021, Examination of mammals.
DOI: 10.1111 / mam.12268

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