Older bull elephants control young males

Article metrics

Orphaned male adolescents go on killing sprees if mature males aren't around.


Musth is a state of heightened sexual and aggressive activity in male elephants1,2. Between 1992 and 1997, young orphaned musth male African elephants (Loxodonta africana) that had been introduced to Pilanesberg, South Africa, killed more than 40 white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum). The killing ceased after six older male elephants were introduced from the relatively normal Kruger Park population. The deviant behaviour of the young Pilanesberg males was rectified by the consequent reduction in musth.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Observed (black bars) and probable (white bars) musth periods of elephants identified by number.


  1. 1

    Poole, J. H. & Moss, C. J. Nature 292, 830–831 (1981).

  2. 2

    Poole, J. H. Behaviour 102, 283–316 ( 1987).

  3. 3

    Poole, J. H., Kasman, L. H., Ramsay, E. C. & Lasley, B. L. J. Reprod. Fert. 70, 255–260 (1984).

  4. 4

    Rasmussen, L. E. L., Hall-Martin, A. J. & Hess, D. L. J. Mammal. 77, 422– 439 (1996).

  5. 5

    Poole, J. H. Anim. Behav. 37, 140–152 (1989).

  6. 6

    Parker, G. A. J. Theor. Biol. 47, 223–243 (1974).

  7. 7

    Maynard-Smith, J. & Parker, G. A. Anim. Behav. 24, 159–175 ( 1976).

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Rob Slotow.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.