New Study: For Elephants, Sisters are Better Than Brothers

Written by Austin S.
Updated: October 5, 2021
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Researchers from Myanmar, Finland, and the United Kingdom have recently discovered that having older sisters has a significant positive impact on elephant calves.

In this study, researchers looked at the long term effects of siblings on young calves within a controlled working group of Asian elephants from Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE). Normally, longitudinal studies are not possible with long-living animals as research facilities don’t have the resources to accommodate decade long studies. However, MTE meticulously tracks and records information about their elephants’ lives.

The MTE elephants are free to wander, mingle, and with wild elephant groups. This allows researchers to assume that the results of their studies on the MTE elephants could be applied more across the species.

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Researchers came to the conclusion that animals’ sibling relationships are especially important within community-driven and social mammal groups, such as elephants, after using this data to look at elephant’s familial ties.

The Important Impact of Elephant Siblings

For female elephants, having an older sister is correlated with a longer average lifespan, higher survival rates, and higher reproductive rates. These factors are all important for determining an elephant’s quality of life as well. These factors are also important to the preservation of Asian elephants.

Older brothers did also have a positive impact on younger calves. However the impact was not as high as older sisters’. Reproduction was one of the highest indicators of a positive impact. Elephants with older sisters started reproducing at least two years earlier than those with older brothers.

For male elephants, older sisters didn’t necessarily correlate with longer lifespans or higher survival rates. However, it did correlate with a higher average body weight. This is another important indicator of later survival rates. Higher average body weight decreases risks to elephant’s survival later in life.

Sibling relationships have a large impact on the cognitive development within calves. Especially within social species, high levels of cooperative behavior is necessary for survival. Elephants are one of the best examples of social species. This is due to their important family ties.

The Future of Sibling Studies

Researchers have acknowledged the limitations of this study and the potential impact of external factors on survival and reproduction rates.

In the future, the study group plans to conduct research on the weight of maternal elephants, the environmental factors of the family group, and also the effects of younger calves’ presences on elderly elephants.

By further investigating the familial relationships of elephants, researchers will hopefully be able to piece together more information about this intelligent animal’s community and family ties.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © CherylRamalho/

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About the Author

Growing up in rural New England on a small scale farm gave me a lifelong passion for animals. I love learning about new wild animal species, habitats, animal evolutions, dogs, cats, and more. I've always been surrounded by pets and believe the best dog and best cat products are important to keeping our animals happy and healthy. It's my mission to help you learn more about wild animals, and how to care for your pets better with carefully reviewed products.

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