For this week’s EleFACT Friday, we’re going to talk about the appearance of an elephant’s ears and why exactly some look the way they do. Many of you have noticed that a few of the elephants here have ears that appear worn or tattered. This can happen for several reasons, because their ears are remarkably thin and sensitive. Many of the elephants at Elephant Sanctuary Brazil started out as circus animals, where handlers use their ears to control and train them. This technique is effective, particularly when instruments like bullhooks are involved. However, the ears can be torn naturally as well. In nature, there are many things that elephants can catch their ears on that might cause them to fray or tear.
Near the end in this video, Bambi opens her ears all the way which allows you to see the full back portion. You might notice that the veins on the ears are prominent. These veins help elephants regulate their temperatures because, as blood circulates through the ears, it cools down – then travels through the rest of the body, cooling that down as well. Elephants also flap their ears to cool off, using them like fans and allowing for blood circulation throughout the body. At times, elephants spray water on their ears or hold their ears outward, using the breeze to cool down these blood vessels.
You may not be surprised to know that, when blood draws are necessary for medical testing, the ears are the most efficient place to access veins; because elephant skin can be so tough and thick on the body, going to a place where veins are so easy to find, and can be done in a very safe manner, makes perfect sense. When drawing blood from an elephant, we use lidocaine cream to numb the area, but they can still feel the stick. As with humans, giving blood may cause a small amount of unease, but it is drawn gently and with care, making the process relatively quick. This is just a look at another magnificent feature of elephants that one might not often get to see up close.