A study of African elephants by Karen McComb and colleagues revealed that matriarchs are repositories of social knowledge for family groups (Reports, "Matriarchs as repositories of social knowledge in African elephants," 20 Apr., p. 491). Therefore, the authors suggest that the removal of older elephants by hunters could have serious consequences for the conservation of the species. McComb et al. did not elaborate on conservation issues, so we wish to discuss two key considerations that are important to take into account in elephant conservation efforts: namely, the different consequences of legal versus illegal hunting, and the importance of habitat loss in reducing elephant numbers. Evidence on illegal hunting indicates that poachers target individuals with the largest tusks, including many matriarchs (1). In contrast, trophy hunting, besides being regulated and limited by quota to relatively few animals per year, primarily targets large bulls (2, 3). Bulls are far more solitary than females (4), so their role as repositories of social knowledge, although untested, is likely to be less important than that of matriarchs. Although the removal of significant numbers of older bulls from a population may have other detrimental results (1), the effect of regulated, low off-take trophy hunting on group social knowledge is likely to be minimal when compared with poaching. More importantly, a well-regulated trophy hunting system can help maintain elephant numbers while raising revenues to fund elephant conservation programs and benefit local communities, who share 80% of the species' range. Given that habitat loss contributes significantly to elephant decline (5), it is essential to encourage coexistence between elephants and local communities outside protected areas. Without intervention, however, elephants are generally unpopular because they may damage crops or threaten the lives of people (3). Furthermore, compensation schemes for those adversely affected have largely failed (6), and tourism benefit-sharing schemes are limited to more accessible areas with relatively developed infrastructure and do not provide a focussed benefit from elephants. Consequently, many communities and wildlife authorities have resorted to the destruction of problem animals. Indeed, in Kenya, where there is no trophy hunting, figures from 1992 to 1999 show that similar numbers of elephants were killed by poachers as were shot by Problem Animal Control units (412 compared with 428, respectively) (7). In other countries, however, trophy hunting provides a means of turning a problem into assets worth more than $10,000 per elephant trophy to the community, resulting in greater tolerance of elephants and fewer animals killed overall (4). In Zimbabwe, implementing trophy hunting has doubled the area of the country under wildlife management relative to the 13% in state protected areas (3). As a result, the area of suitable land available to elephants and other wildlife has increased, reversing the problem of habitat loss and helping to maintain a sustained population increase in Zimbabwe's already large elephant population (8). References and Notes 1. A. Dobson, J. Poole, in Behavioural Ecology and Conservation Biology, T. M. Caro, Ed. (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 1998), pp. 193-208. 2. B. Child, Biodiv. Conserv. 5, 369 (1996). 3. G. Child, Wildlife and People: The Zimbabwean Success (Wisdom, Harare, Zimbabwe, 1995). 4. C. Moss, Elephant Memories (Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2000). 5. H. T. Dublin, T. O. MeShane, J. Newby, Conserving Africa's Elephants: Current Issues and Priorities for Action (World Wildlife Fund, Gland, Switzerland, 1997). 6. R. E. Hoare, Review of Compensation Schemes for Agricultural and Other Damage Caused by Elephants [International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), Gland, Switzerland, 2000]. 7. Data extracted from Kenya Wildlife Service reports by Africa Resources Trust. 8. R. F. W. Barnes et al., African Elephant Database 1998 (IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, 1999). Response In our study, we used playback experiments on female African elephants to demonstrate that the possession of enhanced abilities for social discrimination by the oldest female in a group can influence the social knowledge of the group as a whole (1). These superior abilities for social discrimination may result in higher per capita reproductive success for female groups led by older individuals, and thus removal of matriarchs from elephant family units could have serious consequences for the conservation of this endangered species. While our experiments provide evidence that older group members act as repositories of social knowledge, other forms of accumulated knowledge held by such individuals, including knowledge of the location of food resources, may also have important effects on reproductive success. Older female elephants clearly face their major threat from illegal hunters, who kill them for their tusks and for food. Leader-Williams and co-authors argue the case for legal hunting of male elephants maintaining elephant numbers. Although serious concerns are raised elsewhere over the implications of losing older males from endangered elephant populations because of their particular importance in breeding (2), male elephants were not the subjects of our paper. However, we emphasize in general terms the danger of removing older, more experienced individuals from social groups in endangered populations of advanced social mammals, because the situation for female elephants has obvious parallels elsewhere (1, 3). In many whale species, for example, large-brained, long-lived females also form closely bonded social groups (3, 4), and examination of the size of individuals in commercial catches suggests that the largest may have been selectively taken (5). Given that our results indicate that groups may rely on older members for their store of social knowledge, in the absence of information on specific cases we would urge caution over any activity that results in their removal from endangered populations. References and Notes 1. K. McComb, C. Moss, S.M. Durant, L. Baker, S. Sayialel, Science 292, 491 (2001). 2. A. Dobson, J. Poole, in Behavioural Ecology and Conservation Biology, T. M. Caro, Ed. (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 1998), pp. 193-208. 3. E. Pennisi, Science 292, 417 (2001). 4. R. C. Connor, in Cetacean Societies, Field Studies of Dolphins and Whales, J. Mann et al., Eds. (Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2000), pp. 199-218. 5. P. T. Stevick, Mar. Mamm. Sci. 15, 725 (1999). Source: PDF | Elephant Hunting and Conservation. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/11777738_Elephant_Hunting_and_Conservation [accessed Jul 10 2018].