A team of scientists from the University of Edinburgh, UK, and the University of Turku, Finland, has investigated the personality structure of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) and discovered that personality in these elephants manifests through three different factors: attentiveness, sociability, and aggressiveness.
As is commonly known, people have different personalities, and the structure of human personality can be divided into five factors.
Other species’ behavior also differs between individuals: some are braver, more social, or aggressive than others.
“These kinds of consistent differences in behavior are called personality,” said study lead author Dr. Martin Seltmann, a researcher in the Department of Biology at the University of Turku.
“Personality studies on other species than humans have so far focused on primates, pets and zoo populations, or on species that have a relatively short lifespan. Besides humans, personality studies on other long-lived species living in their natural habitat are rare.”
Dr. Seltmann and colleagues studied the personality of over 250 semi-captive timber elephants living in their natural habitat in Myanmar.
“The elephants work in the timber industry, pulling logs from one place to another. This is a very unique research environment and population, enabling us to study several hundreds of elephants,” Dr. Seltmann said.
The scientists discovered that the animals have three different personality factors: attentiveness, sociability, and aggressiveness.
“Attentiveness is related to how an elephant acts in and perceives its environment,” Dr. Seltmann explained.
“Sociability describes how an elephant seeks closeness to other elephants and humans, and how popular they are as social partners.”
“Aggressiveness shows how aggressively an elephant acts towards other elephants and how much it interferes in their social interaction.”
They also identified that male and female elephants do not differ in these three personality factors.
“We met elephants that were clearly more curious and braver than others. For example, they always tried to steal the water melons that were meant as rewards,” Dr. Steltmann said.
“Elephants and humans have many similar characteristics in their life-history and behavior,” said co-author Dr. Mirkka Lahdenperä, also from the University of Turku.
“Among other things, elephants have a very long lifespan and give birth to a single calf at a time, who in turn needs the care of the mother and other females for a long time after birth.”
“Living in complex social environments could be a reason why both species have developed such complex personality structures.”