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The Social Behavior of Older Animals

Anne Innis Dagg

Publication Year: 2009

How do young and old social animals view each other? Are aged animals perceived by others as weaker? Or wiser? What is the relationship between age and power among social animals? Taking a cue from Frans de Waal’s seminal work examining the lives of chimpanzees, Anne Innis Dagg in this pioneering study probes the lives of older mammals and birds. Synthesizing the available scientific research and anecdotal evidence, she explores how aging affects the lives and behavior of animals ranging from elk to elephants and gulls to gorillas, examining such topics as longevity; how others in a group view senior members in regard to leadership, wisdom, and teaching; mating success; interactions with mates and offspring; how aging affects dominance; changes in aggressive behavior and adaptability; and death and dying. At once instructive and compelling, this theme-spanning book reveals the complex nature of maturity in scores of social species and shows that animal behavior often displays the same diversity we find in ourselves.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix

I would like to thank all those who helped me in the creation of this book by reading short sections of the manuscript or by sending me information about published research or particular old animals.They include Alan Cairns...

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pp. 1-9

This book is about the social behavior of mammals and birds well past their prime who live either in the wild or in captivity where they have large areas in which to move and interact with others. It does not include data from animals kept in small cages and...

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1 Evolutionary Matters

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pp. 10-18

Behavioral zoologists analyze the behavior and adaptations of animals to determine why and how these characteristics developed over time. The reason they evolved was to improve the species’ potential to reproduce. The more offspring individuals produce compared...

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2 Sociality, Media, and Variability

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pp. 19-28

All animals are born with instincts, which are universal in each species, that have a genetic basis. Some of these instincts are related to individuals who have reached an advanced age, as was discussed in chapter 1. Yet experience, which “relates to an animal’s...

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3 The Wisdom of Elders

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pp. 29-37

In the 1980s, officials in Kruger National Park, South Africa, shot a number of elephants because they were becoming too numerous for their habitat. Men aimed darts at adults from the air, then gunned them down as they lay anesthetized on the ground. The youngsters who watched this...

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4 Leaders

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pp. 38-49

Chapter 3 discussed how older elephants make superb leaders, in large part because of their age and experience. Various whale leaders are undoubtedly as experienced and wise as elephant matriarchs, but we must infer this, because we are not able to see...

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5 Teaching and Learning

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pp. 50-59

Are nonhuman animals teachers? Is it possible to pinpoint activity that can be labeled “teaching” per se? In their book How Monkeys See the World (1990), Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth argued that monkeys (who are presumably smarter than most...

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6 Reproduction

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pp. 60-71

Reproduction differs for older animals and younger ones. (A sample of the behavior of “good mothers” themselves is the subject of chapter 11.) In a colony of adult female langurs, for example, the survival of infants was much better for the six oldest females...

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7 Successful Subordinates

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pp. 72-79

We usually think of subordinate animals as losers, but they can also be successful—by living longer than others, by producing more progeny than do dominant individuals, or both. Dominance and subordination, which run through most animal...

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8 The Fall of Titans

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pp. 80-92

Success in the animal world involves producing as many young as possible. In social species, usually being the highest-ranked individual in the group—an alpha male (patriarch) or alpha female (matriarch)— makes this feasible. But the aging process means that there are...

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9 Aging of Captive Alphas

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pp. 93-99

The only place to view, in continuing detail, the social relationships involving the decline of an aging alpha animal is in captivity, where groups of animals can be observed every day, all day long. Zoologist Frans de Waal undertook such research at the large...

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10 Happy Families

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pp. 100-110

The tour group gaping out of the parked Land Cruiser on the Kenya savanna was mesmerized by a small lion cub stalking a large resting patriarch through the short grass, stopping every meter or so to rise up and check his direction, then flattening himself...

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11 Mothering—Good and Not So Good

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pp. 111-121

This chapter deals with veteran older mothers, some good at their work, and some not so good. In general, older mothers are far more competent than young ones, because the latter lack experience to guide them. Indeed, for orca females, researchers assume that...

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12 Grandmothers

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pp. 122-133

In the animal kingdom, males usually become less aggressive when they are past their prime. However, some females become more combative as they grow older, as typified by the feisty baboon Vecchia, described in chapter 9. In humans, older men are far less violent than young...

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13 Sexy Seniors

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pp. 134-146

Reproduction in both humans and nonhumans decreases with age, as noted in earlier chapters. Females produce fewer or no young when they are older, and very old males may be impotent (such as wolves [Mech 1966] and red deer [Darling 1969]). But that...

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14 Their Own Person

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pp. 147-154

Older animals wander about alone for various reasons: they are loners by nature because of their species; they become eccentric over the years, like the unneighborly moose described below; they have slowed down with age and can no longer keep up with...

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15 Adapting and Not Adapting

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pp. 155-166

Some old animals readily adapt to novel situations, but other individuals and groups may find this impossible. Presumably this difference relates in part to how things are processed in the animals’ brains. Even though turtles and tortoises have existed for a very long...

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16 All Passion Spent

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pp. 167-183

After a long eventful life, many animals seem happy to wind down their activities, all passion spent. Previous chapters considered two wearied but comfortable pairs of long-lived gorillas, Beethoven and Effie, and Rafiki and Coco (Fossey 1983). The first part of...

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17 The Inevitable End

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pp. 184-193

Animals in the wild rarely die a slow and agonizing death, as people sometimes do. There are predators around to snap up those who are too slow to escape. If they avoid predation, there is still no medicine to stave off disease. When their teeth are worn down...


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pp. 195-198


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pp. 199-216


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pp. 217-225

E-ISBN-13: 9780801895395
E-ISBN-10: 0801895391
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801890505
Print-ISBN-10: 0801890500

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2009