How animals choose their leaders - Wild Voyager Blog
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How animals choose their leaders

How animals choose their leaders

The electoral process is always surrounded by anticipation and anxiety. Different appointing systems play an integral role in choosing the governing leader of a country.

Similar to human society, animals living in cooperative groups are controlled by a single leader. Different animals have various methods of electing their leaders or in some cases, the leader electing themselves.

Animals don’t stand in lines to vote or make use of voting machines like us. However, they do make overall collective decisions that affect their everyday lives.

Social animals and their methods of choosing a leader vary in different species. From elephants to bees, each has its ways to smoothly run its respective societies. There are surprising researches and findings of animals practicing distinct voting systems, some even corresponding to humans.

Here is a look at how different animal species choose their leaders:

Majority wins

One of the most evident examples of democracy is seen in the interesting society of bees. In a beehive, all bees fall under three categories: queen bees, worker bees, and drones. All worker bees are female and their job consists of collecting pollen, feeding, and protecting the hive. On the other hand, drones are males who solely exist to mate with the queen.

A queen bee lays two types of eggs: Fertilized which hatch into female bees who will either be workers or queens and unfertilized eggs that hatch into male bees and become drones. When the queen is injured, rejected by the hive, or close to death, she decides to give up her throne. After the bees observe that her egg laying process has slowed down, they decide to appoint a new queen.

A queen bee appears larger than other bees
A queen bee appears larger than other bees

To choose the new potential queen, worker bees choose random fertilized eggs and feed them special food when they hatch. The worker bees place these eggs into a separate hive where they continue to feed and grow. The first larvae to mature becomes the new queen.

But things get violent after the elected leader destroys all her competitors, i.e., the still-growing larvae. If there are two queens elected at the same time, a stinging contest ensues where the last bee standing becomes the new queen. This violent model is an exception to democracy.

Larvae separated in a bee hive
Larvae separated in a bee hive

At times when a hive grows too large to accompany all, bees come together to make decisions democratically. Faced with a life-or-death problem, and choosing a new home, bees practice consensus democracy.

An identical form of voting is followed by Tonkean macaques who reside in the forests of Sulawesi, an Indonesian Island. They travel in groups for food and shelter without any conflict. Any macaque regardless of their gender and age can become the leader. 

A group of tonkean macaque
A group of tonkean macaque

The beginning of the voting process starts with a group of macaques heading towards a fruit patch. When a macaque would like to move to a desired patch, it steps into the direction it wants to go, stops, and looks behind to see if the rest of the group is following.

Whereas, another macaque wanting to move in another fruit patch does the same by heading towards another direction. Then, monkeys start to cast their vote by joining one out of the two macaques competing. This is done based on their preference and relations with other monkeys in the group.

The voting is completed once the macaque stops looking back at the troop. The remaining monkeys join the group with the largest number of members. To stay together, the monkeys that vote for the unchosen route joins the rest and moves forward.

Violent force

Not every animal species has a simple and collective decision-making process. Chimpanzees are the perfect example of dominance and power struggle. Gaining power in the chimpanzee society involves political gains, bribery, and deception, a case very similar to humans.

A chimpanzee society
A chimpanzee society

The great apes have a leader that is always an experienced, adult male. But without the support of his friends, he cannot reach the top. So, the potential chimp leaders starts building coalitions with both sexes. The chimpanzee with the most followers is selected as the leader of the group.

However, according to primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall, the power struggle in chimpanzees can turn complex and violent. The loser who fails to become the ruler is sometimes banished from the troop altogether. This can occur if he makes poor decisions that affect other chimpanzees in the group.

Male chimpanzees may groom and kiss baby chimps to gain trust of members in the group
Male chimpanzees may groom and kiss baby chimps to gain trust of members in the group

As these apes hold grudges like humans do, they tend to remember the leader’s mistakes. In this manner, they select another chimp as the leader. Alpha chimpanzees, whose primary interest is mating, aren’t always determined by birth. They sometimes use the pecking order – a dominant who controls the submissive and even resort to terrorizing others to keep up with the high status. 

Sometimes a chimp leader takes his associates and wages war on another group which results in causalities. The winners overtake the losers and combine the two communities.

Matriarch

As stated above, honeybees are not only democratic but also follow matriarchy. But it isn’t the only animal species that follow this system of society.

Elephants are led by the oldest female in the herd. As these matriarchs are considered to be intelligent and experienced in memorizing the landscapes for food and water, they easily guide their herds. There is no voting system or power plays, as the oldest female elephant becomes the undisputed leader.

A female herd at Chobe River, Botswana
A female herd at Chobe River, Botswana

It may be surprising for many but lion pride is ruled by the lionesses, not the king of the jungle. Although they have a male lion that is known to be the leader, it is the lionesses in the pride who govern. They guard the territory, hunt for food, and keep the pride together.

Lionesses in a pride
Lionesses in a pride

Among the mammal species, killer whales or Orcas follow a matrilineal pattern. After they give birth to their offspring, older female orcas guide the whole family, including the offspring’s calves. She takes care of the entire family for around 50 years or so. Killer whales travel together in multiple family units.

A killer whale family or pod swims around together
A killer whale family or pod swims around together

Like bees, ants are also controlled by a queen whose tasks are to mate and breed. The rest of the ants are required to perform other tasks to keep the colony alive.

A queen ant is the founder of the colony
A queen ant is the founder of the colony

Animals that also follow matriarchy include, mole rats, meerkats, bonobos, and lemurs.

The Alphas

In spotted hyena society, it is the female hyena who takes over and leads the pack. This animal species follows a matrilineal pattern but only the alpha female gets to rule. After their birth, each female is subjected to a high rank or social hierarchy. Female hyenas remain at top of the pecking order and have increased aggression.

A standoff between two alpha female hyenas
A standoff between two alpha female hyenas

But rather than intrinsic, extrinsic factors play a much larger role for alpha females to dominate the clan. A hyena’s one on one interaction with other members helps them gain more followers. If a female hyena has more social support, she is declared as the leader. Moreover, females and cubs are given easy access to food and water, ensuring that the future offspring are heathier.

Wolves have an interesting way of choosing their alphas. These animals move around in packs, a name given to a family of wolves. The pack is led by an adult male and an adult female considered to be alphas of the group.

A pack of timber wolves
A pack of timber wolves

The couple is dominant in the pack and the only one who breeds and produces pups. The social structure of a wolf pack changes yearly. In the hierarchy or the pecking order, the wolves move up and down according to rank. For instance – a wolf from the lower pecking order can challenge the alpha wolf. If the alpha loses, he will likely leave the group, find another mate, and start his pack or family.

Wild dogs are also similar as their group is controlled by an alpha pair. By displaying dominance through aggression, they find themselves on top of the rank. The other dogs act as subordinate members which consist of a mixed-sex pack.  Also called helpers, they support the alpha pair in raising the offspring, bringing food, and even babysitting when the members are away.

Wild dogs feast on an impala
Wild dogs feast on an impala

These wild societies have unique ways of electing a leader and maintaining social order. Many voting practices in these animal societies appear similar to humans. Their electoral process can teach us immensely about leadership.

But when it comes to pecking orders or violently destroying other candidates, voting with EVM machines and ballot seems more preferable to humans.

 

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Wild Voyager Team

The blogging team at Wild Voyager. We are explorers at heart and we love to share our travel stories and destination knowledge with you, which often serve as an inspiration for the life changing journeys we curate. When you decide to embark on one such life changing journey, our travel experience designers at letstalk@wildvoyager.com will be happy to get you started.

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