In last week’s EleFact, we spent time looking at the incredible capabilities of elephant trunks and received an interesting question: in situations where elephants unfortunately lose their trunks or their abilities to use them properly, how do they adapt? Today we’ll be tackling this and taking a closer look.
In our personal experience, we have actually worked with several elephants who have had different degrees of trunk paralysis. This seems to be something that more prominently affects elephants in captivity, but it’s undetermined if it results from neurological injury or vitamin deficiency or something else altogether. Regarding the elephants that we have worked with, we have found that they are highly adaptable. From finding ways to control their trunks with the help of gravity and momentum, like by throwing their trunks and spraying water or throwing food, or becoming more willing to take food or water by mouth, there are certainly ways that elephants can live sustainable lives, although perhaps not as gracefully. It’s important to mention that these elephants in particular were still able to use the tips of their trunks, allowing them to graze; as we know, this is imperative to their physical and mental well-being. A truly important aspect in our work is to ensure that the elephants stay fed and hydrated in whatever way that is, especially those who are geriatric or suffer in other physical ways from captivity.
Unfortunately, there are cases in the wild where elephants may lose partial pieces of their trunk or the entirety of it altogether. Whether this is a result of manmade traps or larger predators, several cases have been seen where wild elephants use their social structure to aid in adaptation to such difficult injuries. From being fed by other herdmates or other members of the family unit helping to bring leaves or other vegetation down to a lower level, it has been observed that the species can find ways to exist in the wild with a bit more effort. Like any physical disability or handicap seen across the animal kingdom, trunk injuries are not as dire as they may seem, thanks to their amazing adaptability of the elephant species itself and their social support structures.
Photo of Lady