Elephants of Gorongosa
Elephant Family Tree
The elephants of Gorongosa National Park are a truly incredible group of survivors. In 1972, over 2000 elephants lived in the park and an estimated 4000 lived in the greater Gorongosa ecosystem. Between 1977 and 1992, most of the elephants were killed during the civil conflict in Mozambique. Their meat was used to feed soldiers and their ivory was sold for weapons, ammunition and supplies. Now, there are roughly 530 elephants left in Gorongosa, and the survivors still carry physical and emotional scars from the war. Overall, they tend to avoid large areas of the park and are wary of people.
Fascinatingly, the elephants of Gorongosa seem to have made an interesting cultural adaptation somewhere along the way. Instead of running away from humans, like most elephants recovering from intense periods of poaching, Gorongosa’s female elephants have a pattern of grouping together and charging at vehicles. This response to perceived threat is normally reserved for predators, such as lions. But with increased exposure to respectful and harmless humans, many of the elephants are beginning to learn that we don’t represent a threat. By studying their group responses to humans in the park, Dr. Joyce Poole is gaining brand new insights into the group decision-making processes of elephants and uncovering new clues to their complex vocal and gestural communication.