Mammalian Biology- http://10.1007/s42991-022-00285-9
Conservation translocations have the potential to strengthen populations of threatened and endangered species, but facilitating integration of translocated individuals with resident populations remains a substantial challenge. Developing functional social relationships like cooperative partnerships or establishing clear dominance hierarchies may be critical to integration of released individuals. Developing such relationships has not received much attention in translocation research, especially for long-lived, socially complex animals for which establishment and navigation of social environments is often a lengthy process that requires sustained monitoring to understand. Here, we present a case study of the social associations of African savannah elephant (Loxodonta africana) calves that have been rehabilitated and released into a fenced wildlife sanctuary in northern Kenya with a resident population of elephants. We use focal follows of interactions pre-release and GPS tracking post-release to quantify social associations of calves with each other and with resident elephants at the release site. We demonstrate how this approach supports translocation monitoring by capturing temporal trends in social patterns within and between release cohorts and among released elephants and wild elephants already resident at the site during a transitional soft release period. Our results show that initial post-release social behavior of rehabilitated calves is related to histories of interaction with familiar individuals and cohort membership and that released calves increased their associations with residents over time. This information provides new behavioral insights for guiding elephant release projects, like the strength of relationships within and among release cohorts, the time to integration with the resident population, and the occurrence and increased incidence of societal fission–fusion. Further, this study provides an example of the utility of animal behavior research to achieve and assess progress towards conservation objectives, and to develop monitoring tools for conservation managers.