Trunk Calls on the Bush Telegraph


The elephant that upended a car with two passengers has, alas, been shot. We were a little more wary to approach any elephants after that, but still saw many, including a few single bulls. These were Savanna elephants. (Bush elephants) One advanced upon us as we were already hooked up with trailer and all, ready to leave the park. It is hard to reverse or make a U-turn at speed with a trailer, so we pulled on to the side, giving him a wide respectful berth. He then strided past us, and we exhaled and continued on our way. We video-taped it in case our end was nigh. It is not of very good quality…

Elephants have good hearing; the range extends from 1kHertz up; the human range is around 20 to 20kHz. I found an interesting article by Mark Shwartz online about a study done by Stanford University scientists on elephant communication. I was wondering if, in addition to the field telephone, elephants could use underground water’s acoustic properties for chatting. They already use the vibrations in the soil for listening to messages within at least a 2 mile range.

From Wikipedia:

The trunk is an incredible appendage, with over 40000 (my note: the internet generously supplies figures varying between 40 000 to 250 000: I will go with Wikipedia’s 150 000) muscles. A human has about 640 skeletal muscles.

The trunk, or proboscis, is a fusion of the nose and upper lip, although in early fetal life, the upper lip and trunk are separated. The trunk is elongated and specialised to become the elephant’s most important and versatile appendage. It contains up to 150,000 separate muscle fascicles, with no bone and little fat. These paired muscles consist of two major types: superficial (surface) and internal. The former are divided into dorsals, ventrals and laterals, while the latter are divided into transverse and radiating muscles. The muscles of the trunk connect to a bony opening in the skull. The nasal septum is composed of tiny muscle units that stretch horizontally between the nostrils. Cartilage divides the nostrils at the base. As a muscular hydrostat, the trunk moves by precisely coordinated muscle contractions. The muscles work both with and against each other. A unique proboscis nerve – formed by the maxillary and facial nerves – runs along both sides of the trunk.

Elephant trunks have multiple functions, including breathing, olfaction, touching, grasping, and sound production.The animal’s sense of smell may be four times as sensitive as that of a bloodhound.The trunk’s ability to make powerful twisting and coiling movements allows it to collect food, wrestle with conspecifics, and lift up to 350 kg (770 lb). It can be used for delicate tasks, such as wiping an eye and checking an orifice, and is capable of cracking a peanut shell without breaking the seed. With its trunk, an elephant can reach items at heights of up to 7 m (23 ft) and dig for water under mud or sand. Individuals may show lateral preference when grasping with their trunks: some prefer to twist them to the left, others to the right.[60] Elephants can suck up water both to drink and to spray on their bodies. An adult Asian elephant is capable of holding 8.5 L (2.2 US gal) of water in its trunk. They will also spray dust or grass on themselves. When underwater, the elephant uses its trunk as a snorkel.
The African elephant has two finger-like extensions at the tip of the trunk that allow it to grasp and bring food to its mouth. The Asian elephant has only one, and relies more on wrapping around a food item and squeezing it into its mouth. Asian elephants have more muscle coordination and can perform more complex tasks. Losing the trunk would be detrimental to an elephant’s survival, although in rare cases individuals have survived with shortened ones. One elephant has been observed to graze by kneeling on its front legs, raising on its hind legs and taking in grass with its lips. Floppy trunk syndrome is a condition of trunk paralysis in African bush elephants caused by the degradation of the peripheral nerves and muscles beginning at the tip.

There is also a nebula named after the elephant’s trunk: The Elephant’s Trunk Nebula.

Well, time to pack my trunk and keep moving.





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