Since childhood I have had a fascination with Africa’s largest mammal. And I think so has every guest that visits our lodges.
Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of “Elephant Moments”, some scary I must admit, but those are really too few to mention. Every moment spent with these amazing Uganda wildlife, be it during a safari game drive or on foot, has been a special and humbling experience. I can sit and watch these animals for hours and every time I notice something special about them. Their behaviour and interaction with each other is so intriguing and complex. It is then that you realise how intelligent these pachyderms really are.
One of the most fascinating aspects of elephants is how they use their trunks. If you have ever been touched by an elephant you will know what I mean…
I once watched a new born elephant calf in Uganda’s Murchison Falls game park. She was only a couple of days old. The little trunk seemed almost out of place as it hung from her face. She swung it around from side to side as if she was trying get rid of this “thing” on her face. But to no avail. I chuckled softly and wondered what she was thinking.
Elephant calves, just like human children, learn through mimicry. They watch what their mothers and other family members do and then they will try to do the same. She was trying to grab a clump of grass and in the process got her little trunk entangled. The moment was just too much for her and she squealed and trumpeted loudly (well loud for a youngster). She must have thought she was going to lose this “thing” and pulled and plugged her trunk in every direction. Her mother ran closer and gently started to help her get the little trunk free from the grass. I laughed out loud and well, got a stare from mom – one of those stares my wife gives me sometimes… Guys will know what I am talking about.
Well, it will take this little girl around two years to fully use her trunk like mom does. But with her mother’s guidance and patience she will get better at it every day.
For an elephant the trunk is a necessity. Although it’s basically an extension of the nose, it has evolved into almost an “arm and a hand”. And this is the most fascinating limb I have ever seen on an animal.
Made up of millions of tiny muscles that can all move independently, it becomes the tool that ensures the elephant’s survival. It is a powerful tool that can pick up the tiniest objects, caress with so much compassion and break thick branches as if they are toothpicks. But it is also powerful enough to cause serious injury.
Elephants can smell 28,000 times better than humans and this all through its trunk. To watch them use their trunks to suck up water, spray mud over their bodies or touch each other is quite amazing.
If you are ever around elephants again take the time to watch how they use their trunks. Touching each other is as important to elephants as it is to humans. Through touching with the trunk and trunk tip elephants obtain valuable information about each other.
Touching between a mother and her calf strengthens the bond between mother and calf. Touching reassures the calf and mom obtains chemical information on the well – being of the calf. Most importantly, touching has a great calming effect on the little calf.
The little calf will touch mom when it wants to suckle and also expresses affection for its mother. Chemical information is also obtained by the calf and in this way she learns through her little trunk about her world.
These large animals are so complex, and we still have so much to learn about them. But we can also learn so much about ourselves from them. They allow us into their world and all they ask in return is to be respected.