Karen McComb from the University of Sussex has found that older matriarchs – the females who lead elephant herds – are more aware of the threat posed by male lions. If they hear recordings of male roars, they’re more likely to usher their herd into a defensive formation. Their experience and leadership could save their followers’ lives.
Herds with matriarchs over 60 years old leading have an advantage. These smart old leaders know what’s what. While lionesses are more frequent hunters, they pose little danger to elephants. Male lions, on the other hand, can take one down. Unlike other elephants (or humans or that matter), these elderly matriarchs can distinguish male from female roars, thus organizing the herd appropriately when needed. They also know how to deal with drought, bees and strangers. I’ve also read about matriarchs directing rough bulls away from vulnerable young females, and encouraging more appropriate first time matings. (If I can find the source, I’ll post it–somewhere in my notes!) Video at the link above.