Giraffes form a complex society, creating multilevel social communities within larger groups. Different animals form different bonds within that society
“The degree to which an animal is connected to others in its social network influences reproductive success and population ecology, spread of information, and even how diseases move through a population,” says Derek Lee, associate research professor at Penn State University and an author of the paper.
For their research, the team analyzed movements and connections of 1,081 free-ranging wild giraffes in Tanzania, using data collected over five years.
They found differences between the ways males and females of all ages formed connections
“Adult females have the strongest and most enduring relationships with each other, and being more socially connected helps adult females to survive better.”
The findings suggest that adult females most often have fewer but stronger relationships with one another than males and than younger females.
In an earlier study, the researchers found that relationships among female giraffes helped them live longer
This new research reveals that giraffe societies are more complex than researchers previously believed
Earlier studies found that adult females formed about a dozen groups of 60 to 90 animals that typically associated more with one another than with other members of the group.
The new study dives even deeper into this specific community structure, finding that the female groups are embedded in three distinct larger groups—dubbed “super-communities”—of between 800 and 900 animals, and one “oddball” super-community of 155 animals in an isolated area
Giraffe groups have what are known as “fission-fusion” dynamics, Bond says. That means the groups they are in will merge and split frequently during the day and memberships in those groups can change often. Many other hoofed animals, as well as whales, dolphins, and primates, have similar social systems.
But the researchers say that despite those shifting dynamics, giraffes actually live in a socially structured complex society where dynamic herds are within stable communities, embedded in stable super-communities
And all those groups are driven by the social connections among the animals
Studying these relationships helps researchers learn more about giraffes and is key for everything from health to conservation efforts, scientists say.
Bond adds, “We are learning more all the time about how important animal sociality is to survival and health of many species, from mice to monkeys to giraffes and of course humans too. We must work to maintain animal social structures and not disrupt their natural order with disturbances, fences, or translocations that break up their relationships.”