Understanding the population dynamics of savanna elephants depends on estimating population parameters such as the age at first reproduction, calving interval and age-specific survival rates. The generation of these parameters, however, relies on the ability to accurately determine the age of individuals, but a reliable age estimation technique for free-ranging elephants is presently not available. Shoulder heights of elephants were measured in 10 populations in five countries across southern and eastern Africa. Data included shoulder height measurements from two populations where the age of each individual was known (i.e. Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa and Amboseli National Park, Kenya). From the known-age data, Von Bertalanffy growth functions were constructed for both male and female elephants. Savanna elephants were found to attain similar asymptotic shoulder heights in the 10 populations, while individuals in the two known-age populations grew at the same rate. The Von Bertalanffy growth curves allowed for the accurate age estimation of females up to 15 years of age and males up to 36 years of age. The results indicate that shoulder height can serve as an indicator of chronological age for elephants below 15 years of age for females and 36 years of age for males. Ages derived from these growth curves can then be used to generate age-specific population variables, which will help assess the demographic status of savanna elephant populations across Africa.
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