Determining whether ad-libitum scoring of aggressive behaviour is a useful way of determining hierarchy in an African elephant (Loxodonta africana) herd.
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Female African elephants are extremely social animals that live with close relatives in matriarchal family groups. The status of each animal in the herd is determined in accordance to a strict hierarchy system. This hierarchy system avoids potential harmful competition over limited resources. The current study was performed on an elephant herd, located at the Entabeni Game Reserve in South Africa. For this herd no clear hierarchy had previously been established. Former studies have proposed that the hierarchy within a herd can be determined by scoring aggressive behaviour. However, there are several methods by which such scoring can be conducted. One of these techniques is the so-called ‘ad libitum group sampling’ method. The aim of this study was to evaluate whether scoring aggressive behaviour, using the ad libitum group sampling method over a three month period, was a useful way of determining the hierarchy in a group of elephants. It was concluded that the hierarchy of the herd could be determined using the ad libitum group sampling method. However, the method was not perfect and it is suggested that additional data such as genetic background and accurately determined age, combined with a longer observation period, could contribute to improve the accuracy of the research method.