Inserting the trunk deep into the mouth cavity and down into the pharyngeal pouch, sucking water therein into the trunk and either swallowing it or blowing it onto the body for cooling. This behavior is more likely to be observed in habitats, or seasons, that are very hot. Typically an elephant uses this technique to cool its own body, but mothers have been sighted spraying the bodies of their calves.

In an area between the southern Selous Game Reserve and the Mozambique border in Tanzania, Donald Mpanduji watched as a mother elephant twice withdrew water from her pharyngeal pouch and then sprayed it over her infant. The mother elephant appears to have recognized that her infant was suffering from the heat and rather than use the water herself she showered the cooling water over her baby.

We have also observed elephants engage in sucking water from their pharyngeal pouch when they are engaged in lone play - in these cases they do not necessarily spray the water on themselves, but may engage in the behavior as they make a series of novel and idiosyncratic trunk sounds.

It is not known at what age this technique is acquired. We have only observed adolescents and adults engage in Pharyngeal-Pouch-Suck.

References: Shoshani 1997, Shoshani 1998, Poole & Granli 2021. (Full reference list)

This behavior occurs in the following context(s): Foraging & Comfort Technique, Lone & Object Play, Novel & Idiosyncratic


Context: Foraging & Comfort Technique (1)

It is a hot dry season day. Allomother V-Notch is resting under tree with Mama Little E and Little E. First she seems to put something in her trunk, swing it high and then blow it (grass/dust) out. Then she starts Trunk-Sucking but puts the tip of her trunk way back in and one can hear and see her suck up water - as if she has inserted her trunk into her pharyngeal pouch. Then it sounds as if she swallows the water - as if she has squirted it into her mouth.

At the same time Little E decided to walk forward and emits a Low Intensity Husky-Cry. As he does his mother responds by touching his genitals (Trunk-to-Genitals) and he respond with a High Intensity Husky-Cry. She and V-Notch Coo-Rumble and V-Notch also give him a Trunk-to-Mouth touch so he Husky-Cry again. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Lone & Object Play (1)

This young male has been Standing next to our car for over 9 minutes. He has been playing with a couple of stones. In this clip he engages in a couple of idiosyncratic sounds.

First, he breathes very purposefully out and then purposefully in, making loud breathing sounds. Then he puts his trunk into his mouth and makes a sound like a Pharyngeal-Pouch-Suck as if sucking water from the back of his throat into his trunk and moving it around. His trunk hangs in an elongated look and he moves it about making Squelching type sounds. As he is doing this we can see him Nasal-Throb. Then he removes the tip of his trunk and lays it on the ground with the fingers pinched together. He continues to make Squelching sounds and then exhales through the pinched trunk fingers making a high-frequency-sound like a Squeak. Then he blows forcefully and water is blown out of the tip of his trunk. (Amboseli, Kenya)