AMA Answers: Round 1 with Dr. Trish

Our recent “Ask Me Anything” was so successful, that we are breaking the answer portion down into more than one post. We posed a few of your questions to one of our elephant veterinarians, Trish, for her to answer:

Q: Can elephants see the ground right under their feet?

A: The diagram below shows how elephants see. Because their eyes are located on the sides of their heads, they have much better peripheral vision than straight-ahead vision. They have two blind spots right in front of them and behind them. The myth that elephants are afraid of mice may have originated from the fact that elephants do not have good vision, particularly of objects beneath them – so any small animal they sense near their feet might startle them slightly. Read more about elephant eyesight here


Q: What does elephant skin feel like?

A: Each elephant skin feels different; for instance, African elephants have more wrinkles than Asian elephants do. But, overall, I find they are smoother and softer than you might think, while also being incredibly hairy at times, too. You can read more about elephant skin here

Q: Do elephants drink water through their trunks?

A: Elephants drink by pulling water up into their trunks, and then putting their trunk into their mouth and blowing the water they sucked up into their trunk into their mouth and esophagus. The soft palate separates the nasal passages from the mouth that the air goes through but is closed when drinking water .

Elephants also have a pharyngeal pouch in their throat where they can store water for drinking or spraying later, if they get hot when there is no water around.

Q: Do the two nostrils go all the way up? Or do they merge into one halfway?

The two nostrils go all the way up, divided until the trunk joins the head. The diagram below may help explain both of the above questions.


Q: Do elephants sneeze or get hiccups?

A: Yes, they sneeze and cough and also do this cough/sneeze thing. Maia does it often and we call it “an explosion.” It is natural and not a sign of illness or distress. There are some that theorize this noise is when elephants are full, but our elephants often make this noise before being fed.

I have only seen calves hiccup after bottle feeding, but I don’t see why the adults would not hiccup, too.

Q: Are most elephant eyes brown? And are there any who have blue eyes?

Yes, they are usually brown, but there is a wide range of shades on the spectrum of browns. It is unusual for an elephant to have other eye colors, but I have seen shades of gold, green, and blue. There are rare so-called “white elephants” in Myanmar, but they are actually albino elephants and have light eyes.


Q: Do elephants yawn?

Yes, elephants yawn. For a long time, scientists didn’t believe that elephants yawned because they hadn’t observed it. Now, not only do we know that elephants yawn, but there was a study done to see if it is possible that they can “catch” yawns from humans – which would be another sign of their empathetic nature. I see Lady yawn, but it can also be a sign of an elephant having abdominal pain. It’s fairly common, but occasionally something to take note of.


Q: Is Bambi still very attached to Mara?

Yes, Bambi is still very attached to Mara, spending almost all of her time near her. But, we also see Bambi starting to explore a little farther away from Mara. She seems to know Mara is not going anywhere. But, if they do somehow get separated, Bambi is always ecstatic to see Mara when they meet again, as though it had been years since they’d seen each other, rather than minutes.  

There are a few other questions asked that are answered on our blog or website:

  • How big is an elephant brain?

An elephant’s brain mass can be up to 3-4 times a human brain, but can differ depending on the type of elephant and it’s size. Read more about brain weight and other features here

  • Do the girls see color like we do?

Their eyesight is very different. Visit this page for more information. 

  • What are trunk pops?

Trunk pops are made when an elephant moves their trunk quickly, back and forth or thump in on the ground, creating a hollow sound with the space in their trunk. You can hear one in this video.

  • What happened to Rana’s ankle?

The injury is not with her ankle, but her elbow. We’re not entirely sure, as we don’t have all of her biographical history. We do know that it occurred when she was very young and is not related to being chained. You can read about Rana here

  • How many elephants do you plan on taking in or have room for at Elephant Sanctuary Brazil? How did you end up in Brazil?

These questions are both answered here.

  • How does a person get a job working with elephants?

It is not an easy process, but here are some of our recommendations.

  • Are you hiring? Do you take volunteers? Do you ever host visitors?

We are not open to the public, though it is possible that we could accept volunteers at some point. The logistics of housing is the biggest issue and, should it ever be possible, we could only accept small groups of under 10 for a week. There currently is no solid timeline to do so. You can read more here

  • As followers, how can we help spread your message?

You can do things as simple as talk to your friends or share information on your social media accounts. Here are some more ways you can make a difference. 

Thanks for all of your questions and we look forward to responding to more soon!

Top photo of Rana

Images courtesy of Biology, Medicine, and Surgery of Elephants edited by Murray Fowler, Susan K. Mikota, ScienceBlogs, and Trish


  1. REPLY
    Katie Howard says

    Ohhhh! The video of Maia and Guida takes me back! ❤️🐘😌❤️
    Thank you very much for this post – and especially the diagram and explanation!

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      I thought they were helpful, too. I’m glad you enjoyed it – and the photo!

  2. REPLY
    Barb says

    Gracious! This posting is incredible! So much information and wonderful answers &/or illustrations! Thanks ever so much

  3. REPLY
    Alana says

    Thanks, Q & A is a great new section. I really appreciate the in depth answers.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      So glad we are able to answer questions all in one place. That way everyone can (hopefully) get the information they’re curious about.

  4. REPLY
    Carol says

    Love all of these informative tidbits. So interesting. Thank you!

  5. REPLY
    Carol says

    Love all of these informative tidbits. So interesting. Thank you!

  6. REPLY
    Anita J says

    Thank you so much! Amazing information and a lot of it quite new to me! Much appreciated your time in that educational post!

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      So glad you enjoyed it. We’ll be sharing more soon.

  7. REPLY
    Andrea says

    Thank you for the time and effort you devote to informing and educating us about our girls living with you and about all elephants around the world. It’s such a gift that you allow us so close to your wonderful work.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      We are happy there’s been such a positive response. Thank you so much for reading and keeping track of our groups of girls.

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