Collective behaviour of wild Asian elephants in risky situations: how do social groups cross roads?

in Behaviour
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Among group-living animals, some members may derive benefit by following the decisions of other members. Free-ranging wild Asian elephants in Mudumalai National Park, southern India, must often cross roads and can be disturbed by vehicles. We assessed if measures of road and traffic characteristics serve as indicators of risk, and compared behaviours of different age classes during road-crossing events. More individuals displayed excitable behaviour on wider roads. A larger number of adults entered the road first, which is considered the most dangerous position, compared with immature elephants. Immature individuals tended to move ahead of others on the road, suggesting that it is more important for immature individuals to follow adults at the beginning of a crossing than to follow along for the entire crossing. These findings may suggest that less experienced group members derive benefit by following the decisions of experienced ones under risky situations.

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Figures
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    (a) Map of roads through the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park. Roads that we travelled to search for elephants are shown in colour; black indicates a major road and grey indicates a secondary road. (b) Photographs of major and secondary roads; arrows indicate road widths.

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    The proportion of individuals that raised their tails during road-crossing in different age classes (N=116; 26 events).

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    Ratio of individuals that raised their tails to group size in each road (N=26).

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    Ratios of observed to expected values in each age class (a) entering the road first (N=47), (b) entering the road last (N=48) and (c) leaving the road last (N=47).

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    Boxplots of order change score in each age class (N=114 individuals; progression positions changed on the roads in 34 events). Positive values indicate that an individual passed another elephant on the road.

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    Ratio of observed to expected values in each category (a) entering the road first (N=32) and (b) leaving the road last (N=32).

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