BENGALURU: Female elephants control their mates and the manner of mating, reveals a study by post-doctoral fellow Karpagam Chelliah and Prof Raman Sukumar of the Centre for Ecological Sciences in IISc.
The duo, who studied the mating preferences of elephants, have tried to find the importance of tusks, body size and musth (a periodic condition in male elephants which is characterised by a large rise in reproductive hormones and highly aggressive behaviour) in mating rituals. The paper appeared earlier this month in the journal Behaviour.
The data collection was carried out at Kaziranga National Park in Assam where according to the Forest Department census of 2011, there are 157 adult males and 371 adult females present.
The elephants were observed over a period of three dry seasons (2008-2011) with the help of a digital camera.
Mating preferences depend on several factors. “Some male traits may convey some information about male health and/or genetic quality to the female,” explains Dr Chelliah. “The oestrous cycle of a female elephant is approximately 16 weeks, which means that if her egg is not fertilised within a day or two of ovulation, she would have to wait another 16 weeks for an opportunity to produce an offspring. So, paying attention to the current fertility condition of the males could be important in increasing the lifetime reproductive success of a female,” he says.
The Asian elephant has elaborate mating rituals, one of which is the female walking in front of the male elephants to allure them. Male elephants also compete with each other to copulate with an oestrous female, as well as ‘guard’ one or more females from other males.
Research also showed that females are able to move away irrespective of the weight or height of the mounting male and found that this did not change even if the mounting male was in musth or had tusks. Besides, the duration of mounting is also controlled by the females.
According to the research, male elephants interacted with oestrous females more often when they were in musth and that older male elephants had more musth days than younger ones.
It was also found that female elephants were predominantly guarded by males that were older than 40 years and young males resort to sneaky mating strategies when the guarding older male is distracted.