Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Bob Dale


In situ female African bush elephants (Loxodonta africana) live in a fission- fusion society comprised of “core groups” in which adult females associate with their dependent offspring (Archie, Moss, & Alberts, 2006). Most of the animals in a core group are related (Archie et al., 2006), but kinship is not the only contributor to elephant sociality.Pre-reproductive females (allomothers) often assist in the care of calves and juveniles (Lee, 1987). The concept of inclusive fitness (Riedman, 1982) is the favored hypothesis for the evolution of allomothering. Zoological settings, with varied social groupings, provide the perfect opportunity to test this hypothesis (Schulte, 2000). During the winter of 2017-2018, four female elephants at the Indianapolis Zoo were grouped together temporarily (one hour per day) and given access to an outside yard. The group included an adolescent (Zahara), her juvenile sister (Nyah), another female juvenile (Kalina) and the (unrelated) dominant elephant at the facility (Sophi). Video recordings of the animals moving freely in the yard were examined to document proximity, changes in proximity, and behavioral observations. Zahara spent more time close to the calves than did Sophi. Zahara and each of the juveniles made and broke contact equally often; however, the juveniles were primarily responsible for maintaining proximity to Sophi. Zahara, surprisingly, associated more with Kalina than with Nyah. Finally, Zahara displayed far more agonistic behaviors towards Kalina than towards Nyah. These results suggest that Zahara was an allomother to both juveniles, favoring Nyah over Zahara, but also interacted with Kalina as a peer.

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