Reaching of the trunk to touch, or near touch the face of another. Trunk-to-Face is a common behavior and occurs between elephants of all age/sex groups in a broad range of contexts and may include Trunk-to-Temporal-Gland, Trunk-to-Ear. In a Calf Reassurance & Protection context, Trunk-to-Face is a common component of Caressing behavior displayed by mothers and allomothers toward infants and calves to bond with, reassure and protect them. Mothers also appear to use Trunk-to-Face to get the attention of infants before moving on or in an attempt to Guide them toward or away from something. During Social Play, Affiliative as well as other contexts elephants also reach the trunk to the face of other elephants, often in the area of the temporal glands and the mouth.

This behavior is often observed during Sparring and following meeting/greeting of individuals. Elephants are very tactile animals with a tremendously perceptive sense of smell. More research is required to fully understand why elephants touch different parts of the faces of other elephants.

References: Poole 1982: 37 illustration; Rasmussen & Wittemyer 2002; Poole & Granli 2003; Poole & Granli 2004, Poole & Granli 2011 [Test-Temporal-Glands]; O’Connell-Rodwell et al 2011 [Trunk to head & Trunk to temporal glands]. (Full reference list)

This behavior occurs in the following context(s): Affiliative, Birth, Calf Reassurance & Protection, Social Play


Context: Social Play (1)

The male in the water is larger and has been engaged in boisterous play for a while. A new smaller male arrives at the bank of the water hole. The male in the water comes over to meet him and invite him to play, but the younger male is skeptical and stands facing him tentatively. The larger male reaches up and touches him Trunk-to-Face exploring his Temporal-Gland area. The younger male sniffs toward him. The larger male hauls himself out of the water doing a mild Head-Toss and then reaches Trunk-to-Face again. The younger male reciprocates with a Trunk-to-Mouth. But when the bigger male comes up on the bank the younger male Orients-Away. The older male reaches Trunk-to-Genitals a couple of times while the younger males Tail-Swats him audibly. (Amboseli, Kenya)