Mothers, Children, and Aunts
The Social Life of Elephant Families
After a gestation period of nearly 2 years, an elephant calf is born into a typically stable family of closely related individuals. Within this social group, the young elephant will spend long years in physical and behavioral development. The eminent sociobiologist Edward Wilson considers social behavior as a set of devices for tracking changes in the environment, and socialization as the sum of social experiences that alter the development of an individual. He emphasizes the potential of species for rapid evolution of social traits as a means of adapting to changing environments.
From the early years of nutritional dependence on its mother (or perhaps occasionally on an aunt), through social interactions with members of the family and elephant groups within the larger population, an individual elephant experiences a complex social life that reaches into this multitier society during its lifetime. The rich repertoire of behavior exhibited by an adult elephant reflects this long history of social interactions and learning.
While the development of social behavior is a continuous process, the primatologist Frank Poirier defined four stages for the sake of convenience: (1) the neonatal period of complete dependence of infant on the mother; (2) the transition period, in which some adult locomotor and feeding patterns are seen; (3) peer socialization, during which much of the contact is with members of the group other than the mother; and (4) the juvenile-subadult period, during which infantile patterns disappear and adult patterns, including sexual be