The elephant herd is led by the oldest and largest female cow known as the matriarch. She is usually the one who was the most closely related to the previous matriarch. The rest of the herd is made up of the matriarch’s other daughters and their calves. These ones gravitate naturally around the matriarch, making her quite simple to identify. She influences the herd more than any other group or individual. In a crisis, the herd will rely on her to make the major decisions as to their course of action. If this is not the case in a particular herd, it is likely that the personality of the matriarch or the genetic make-up of that herd plays a major part. Like humans, some elephants are born to be leaders. These are not always the matriarchs and the matriarch will need to establish her dominance with such ones. Successful leaders earn respect through their wisdom, confidence and connections with other elephants. They need to care for the needs of their herd, and be compassionate to their own herd as well as the members of other herds. If the elephant who is successful in doing this overpowers the existing matriarch, it is possible for that one to replace the older cow. ‘Overpowering’ is not a physical action, it may simply be the challenging of her authority, or a decision on the part of the rest of the herd to elect a certain one as leader.
- According to Nigel, Matriarch Elephants have been known to kill other elephants that try to come to the herd.