They were formerly thought to “have little or no social structure, and only fleeting, weak relationships”:
In a paper published in today in the journal Mammal Review, Zoe Muller, of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, has demonstrated that giraffes spend up to 30% of their lives in a post-reproductive state. This is comparable to other species with highly complex social structures and cooperative care, such as elephants and killer-whales which spend 23% and 35% of their lives in a post-reproductive state respectively. In these species, it has been demonstrated that the presence of post-menopausal females offers survival benefits for related offspring. In mammals—and –ncluding humans—this is known as the ‘Grandmother hypothesis’ which suggests that females live long past menopause so that they can help raise successive generations of offspring, thereby ensuring the preservation of their genes. Researchers propose that the presence of post-reproductive adult female giraffes could also function in the same way, and supports the author’s assertion that giraffes are likely to engage in cooperative parenting, along matrilines, and contribute to the shared parental care of related kin.
Zoe said: “It is baffling to me that such a large, iconic and charismatic African species has been understudied for so long. This paper collates all the evidence to suggest that giraffes are actually a highly complex social species, with intricate and high-functioning social systems, potentially comparable to elephants, cetaceans and chimpanzees.
“I hope that this study draws a line in the sand, from which point forwards, giraffes will be regarded as intelligent, group-living mammals which have evolved highly successful and complex societies, which have facilitated their survival in tough, predator-filled ecosystems.”University of Bristol, “Giraffes are as socially complex as elephants: study” at Phys.org
The paper is open access.
Zoe Muller is right to wonder why researchers simply assumed that the giraffe lacked the wit for social skills without having studied the species much. It would be interesting to know if “evolutionary” assumptions underlay that view. Generally, such assumptions should be treated with caution. For example, “evolutionary” assumptions would not prompt researchers to believe that octopuses are as intelligent as they are.
Note also, however, the sentence “In these species, it has been demonstrated that the presence of post-menopausal females offers survival benefits for related offspring. In mammals—and –ncluding humans—this is known as the ‘Grandmother hypothesis’ which suggests that females live long past menopause so that they can help raise successive generations of offspring, thereby ensuring the preservation of their genes.” What is the “so what” [emphasized] doing in that sentence? Things don’t happen just because they might be useful — unless, of course, she is making a case for directed evolution. Of course, if she is, she might be right.
See also: Octopuses get emotional about pain, research suggests. The smartest of invertebrates, the octopus, once again prompts us to rethink what we believe to be the origin of intelligence. The brainy cephalopods behaved about the same as lab rats under similar conditions, raising both neuroscience and ethical issues.