Male Giraffes Have More Social Connections Than Females

But females have more close friends.

Herd of Giraffe in Tanzania Africa
Giraffes in Tanzania. skibreck / Getty Images

It’s quantity over quality when it comes to relationships for male giraffes. A recent study finds that while female giraffes have closer “friends” than their male counterparts, males have more “acquaintances.”

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. “Information about sociality therefore can provide important guidance for conservation.”

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.

“Older males roam widely amongst many groups searching for females to mate with. Young male giraffes had the most associates and moved often between groups, as they explore their social environment before dispersing,” Monica Bond, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Zurich and an author of the paper, tells Treehugger.

“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.

The new results were published in the journal Animal Behaviour.

Shifting Dynamics in Complex Societies

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.

“When animals associate with each other they share information about resources, find mates, and transmit diseases,” Lee tells Treehugger. “Therefore studying connectedness of animals in their social network is critical for understanding how genes, information, and diseases spread through a population. Giraffes are endangered so our research about social connectedness is important for conservation and management.”

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.”

View Article Sources
  1. Lavista Ferres, Juan M., et al. "Social Connectedness and Movements Among Communities of Giraffes Vary by Sex and Age Class." Animal Behaviour, vol. 180, 2021, pp. 315-328., doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2021.08.008

  2. "Male Giraffes Are More Socially Connected Than Females." Penn State Eberly College of Science, 2021.

  3. Bond, M. L., et al. "Sociability Increases Survival of Adult Female Giraffes." Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 288, no. 1944, 2021, p. 20202770., doi:10.1098/rspb.2020.2770

  4. Monica Bond, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Zurich and an author of the paper