Myanmar Timber Elephant Project

Males have more aggressive and less sociable personalities than females in semi-captive Asian elephants

February 26, 2019

New paper by Martin Seltmann, Samuli Helle, Win Htut and Mirkka Lahdenperä is out in Scientific Reports. Read the full article here.


Personality, i.e. consistent between-individual differences in behaviour, has been documented in many species. Yet little is known about how males and females of long-lived, highly social species differ in their measures of personality structure. We investigated sex differences in the mean, variance, and covariance of three previously reported personality traits (Attentiveness, sociability, Aggressiveness) in 150 female and 107 male Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) from a semi-captive population in Myanmar. These three personality traits were obtained by performing exploratory factor analysis on 28 behavioural items that had been rated by experienced elephant handlers. We found that males scored significantly higher on Aggressiveness and tended to score lower on Sociability than females. However, no sex difference was found in the mean scores of Attentiveness. Variances for the three personality traits did not differ between the sexes, suggesting that male and female elephants share the same range of personality variation. Likewise, trait covariances were similar between the sexes. While both sexes show complex sociality in the wild, female Asian elephants typically live in highly social family units, whereas male elephants’ social bonds are weaker. Males usually form dominance ranks by aggressive interactions, especially during musth. our results on a large sample of individuals living in their natural environment are thus in agreement with elephant life-histories and parallel the findings of sex differences in other long-lived highly social species with similar life-histories.