September 2023

Dexterity

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Dexterity

This peaceful elephant bull was having a quiet time on his own at the waterhole until a more boisterous drinking buddy arrived. Us being in the sunken hide we had a worm’s eye view as to the dexterity of his trunk when drinking. They can use their trunks like a flexible straw to suck up water from various sources, such as rivers, dams, or water holes.

They will insert the tip of their trunk into the water and then use the many muscles in their trunk to create suction, drawing water up into the trunk. Then they put their trunk tip in their mouth and allow the water to transfer from trunk to mouth. This particular elephant had a way of resting his heavy trunk on one of his tusks for less strenuous effort.


In addition to using their trunks as a straw, elephants can also use them as a scoop. They will submerge the tip of their trunk into the water, filling it with a smaller amount of water, and then curl their trunk up and pour the water into their mouths.

Elephants have excellent control over their trunks and can regulate the flow of water. They can drink large quantities of water by continuously sucking it up into their trunks, or they can take smaller sips by carefully controlling the amount of water they draw up. The trunk is a highly sensitive organ with a multitude of nerve endings. Elephants can use their trunks to explore the water source, assessing the temperature, depth, and quality of the water before drinking. Elephants may also use their trunks to rinse their mouths or bodies after drinking.

They might spray water onto their backs to cool down or wash away dust and mud. Sometimes, elephants may store water in their trunks and transport it to another location to drink or to spray on their bodies for cooling or bathing. It’s quite a surprise when you see an elephant doing this in an area away from water.

Adult elephants have incredible dexterity and precision when using their trunks. Their trunks are essential for many aspects of their daily lives, from feeding and drinking to communication and self-defence. Watching a baby elephant learn how to use its trunk is an absolute delight. Getting control over that unwieldy appendage can be a dark art!

Jenny Hishin
By Jenny Hishin
Author / Guest Guide