Int. J. Dev. Biol. 64: 377 - 392 (2020)
doi: 10.1387/ijdb.190274tv
© UPV/EHU Press

Development of motor control and behaviour in Asian elephants in the Kabini elephant population, southern India

T. Revathe, S. Anvitha and T.N.C. Vidya

Evolutionary and Organismal Biology Unit, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bengaluru, India

ABSTRACT Although neonates of precocial mammals are capable of locomotory, sensory, nutritional, and thermoregulatory independence to some extent soon after birth, they attain their adult body mass more slowly than altricial mammals, allowing for an extended period of learning or perfecting skills to an adult-like degree. Asian elephants are precocial but are nutritionally dependent on the mother for at least two years and are long-lived and social. We wanted to examine the ontogeny of trunk motor control and various behaviours in Asian elephant calves and see whether the former develops faster than the latter since limb motor control is achieved soon after birth. We collected field data on trunk use, lateralisation, and behaviours from individually identified, free-ranging elephants in southern India and examined how they were affected by age and other factors. Unlike limb motor control, we found trunk motor skills and behaviours to develop gradually with age. Trunk lateralisation occurred very early on, was not highly dependent on trunk motor skills, and is probably not a developmental marker in Asian elephants. Adult-like behaviours that required low trunk usage emerged within 3 months, while some feeding behaviours emerged later. Calves spent less time resting and more time feeding as they grew, and their activity budgets resembled those of adults only after a year; hence, mother-offspring behavioural synchrony was low for young calves and increased with age. Behavioural development and trunk motor control in Asian elephants are both gradual processes, taking about a year to mature.

Keywords:

ontogeny of behaviour, ethogram, calf behaviour, precocial, trunk laterality, synchrony

*Corresponding author e-mail: tncvidya@jncasr.ac.in