One indicator of an animal’s intelligence is its ability to use tools. Animals such as the chimpanzee use objects found in its environment as tools. A chimp will pick up a rock and use it to crack open a nutshell, or it will thrust a stick into a termite nest in order to harvest a bevy of insects for a meal. The elephant is highly intelligent that researchers and others working with elephants have learned uses many of its body parts as tools.
An elephant’s trunk is composed of 6 muscle groups that are subdivided into 100,000 individual muscles, and the elephant shows considerable dexterity in using this extensive power network. In India, law enforcement officers work with elephants to move illegally parked cars. The elephant wraps its trunk around the offending auto and moves it out of the way. On the other end of the spectrum, elephants have enough control over their power to be able grasp and lift a raw egg with the trunk without breaking the shell. An elephants uses the fingerlike projections at the end of its trunk to scratch itchy skin behind its ears or to wipe dust away from its eyes. A mother elephant guides her youngster using her trunk the way a shepherd uses a staff to corral sheep, nudging the baby gently underneath her body if she spots a predator, or pushing him along with the rest of the herd toward food or water. She also steers her child by grabbing its tail with her trunk and shifting to the right or left.
An elephant’s trunk also serves as a straw or a hose. An elephant fills its trunk with up to 5 quarts of water and then empties it into its mouth in order to drink. Elephants also cool off with mud baths, scooping wet soil from the river bottom and flinging it onto their hot skin. When an elephant goes swimming, it uses its trunk as a snorkel.
When elephants need to communicate with others in the herd, both the trunk and the ears are used to telegraph emotions. Raising the trunk indicates excitement or danger, making trumpeting sounds with the trunk is a sign of joy (especially when accompanied by flapping ears), and sniffing an object followed by placing the tip of the trunk inside the mouth shows curiosity. Like cats, elephants exhibit the Flehmen response when they detect strange scents using the Jacobsons organ that is located in the roof of its mouth. Scents tell the elephant whose been prowling in its territory. When other elephants see a herd member with an apparent sneer on its face, they know that something interesting has been discovered in the area.
Elephants use their ears as air conditioners. Elephants’ ears contain a network of blood vessels that expand during hot weather and allow body heat to escape. Cooled blood returns to the body, effectively bringing the elephant’s core temperature down. Elephants thrust out their ears when they need to chill out, and often face toward the prevailing winds in order to gain the maximum cooling effect of the passing breezes.
The multitasking elephant listens with its feet as well as its ears. When an elephant speaks, it creates a low-pitched rumbling sound that is nearly inaudible but that sends vibrations through the earth. Other elephants get the message through their toes. These seismic messages can travel several miles, offering elephant herds the equivalent of telegraph.
And what allows the elephant to move silently along the Savannah? Elephants have a spongy layer of skin on their feet that is similar to the sole of a good pair of sneakers. Like sneakers, this layer also acts as a form of shock absorber, allowing an animal weighing several tons to walk or run without jarring its joints.
From built-in Reeboks to a trunk that scoops, sniffs and squirts, pachyderms pack a plethora of equipment in one complete package.