Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Many Uses for Elephant's Trunks!

A nose, an arm, a hand, a voice, a straw, a hose and much more - the elephant's trunk is surely the most versatile and useful appendage on the planet! The trunk is an essential tool for social behavior and virtually all close elephant interaction involves the trunk.

They use them to eat, smell, touch, stroke, explore, caress and embrace. The trunk is an extremely flexible muscular organ which can be used with the finest touch. With the two finger-like points on the end of its trunk, an African elephant can pick up fruit the size of a marble -- or a branch a foot thick OR to knock over an entire tree!

A mother will wrap her trunk protectively around her baby, close family members and friends will put the tips of their trunks in each others mouths, juveniles will play by trying to wrap up their friend's trunk in theirs and potential mates will touch and feel the more private areas of the object of their affection.

Watching a baby elephant learn to use this large appendage is quite funny as you see them trip on their trunk, throw it around, and work to figure out how to use the confounded thing.

Elephants use their trunks to rub an itchy eye or scratch an ear. Trunks are also used to threaten, and to throw objects. The trunk plays a vital part in its life. In fact, it is almost impossible for an elephant to survive if its trunk becomes damaged.

The trunk is also used in more confrontational situations both aggressive and defensive. It is used to chastise, discipline or control. An elephant will often wave its trunk or hold it in the air as a warning of aggressive intent. 

At the first hint of danger, an elephant will raise its trunk to smell any reason for the threat. 

However when confronted by an elephant, the real danger sign is when he rolls the trunk up and tucks it under his chin. This signals that an elephant is preparing to charge (while protecting it’s most sensitive and important appendage!)

Contrary to what is often believed, the elephant does not use its trunk to drink through - it uses the trunk to draw water and then sprays it into the mouth. A typical trunk can hold around four litres of water, although studies have shown that the trunk of a big bull can hold up to 10 litres!

The ability to spray water is also an important part of basic hygiene and health care. Elephants use the trunk as a shower with various pressure settings. It can either send a power blast jet of water or offer a more gentle alternative! 

Elephants also use the trunk to transfer a layer of dust or mud to their bodies, which protects them from insect bites and the ravages of a hot sun. When elephants are very hot and water is not readily available, they will often put their trunks in their mouths, obtain large amounts of saliva and spray it on their bodies. It is not advisable to stand beside or behind and elephant when they are engaged in this activity!

During the dry season, when water is low, an elephant will dig holes to find underground springs. The water holes also give elephants access to important mineral sources buried deep below the surface. While these open wells provide a water source for thirsty elephants, other wildlife also depend on them for survival. After elephants leave an area, smaller creatures rush to the watering holes dug by the elephants. 

Plucking fruit from trees with their flexible trunks, elephants feed themselves -- and help forests regenerate. After having walked many miles, the elephants excrete the seeds of the fruit, which sprout in fertile dung piles and create new trees in other parts of the landscape. Recent studies have shown that 90 different tree species depend on hungry elephants in order to prosper.

Without elephants, Africa would look vastly different.

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