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: Affiliative (1)

A group of elephants is browsing. Two adolescents are standing in parallel, facing one another and browsing from the same part of the bush - and, thus, possibly disturbing one another. The male on the right briefly stretches his trunk to touch the face of the other (Trunk-to-Face) before placing his trunk up behind his own tusks and feeling around there. Then he returns to browsing. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Affiliative (2)

Two young males stand face to face. The smaller male delicately touches/sniffs the older males face, from tusk to forehead, with the tip of his trunk. The older male reciprocate by reaching to the younger male Trunk-to-Mouth. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Affiliative (3)

Two males stand side by side, one older than the other. The younger one is exploring the older males mouth and face, gently touching/sniffing Trunk-to-Mouth and Trunk-to-Face. He touches the males tusks and rests his trunk upon it.

The older male reciprocates by reaching Trunk-to-Mouth to the younger male. puts his trunk in the other males mouth twice before touching his own face (Touch-Self). The younger male then resumes his exploration carefully and gently touching the larger male on his forehead, above his eye and in his ear. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (1)

The scene shows members of the C family who are in the company of tuskless adult female Nómada, gf0003. A tuskless juvenile female with her is walking toward the camera followed by a 6 month old female calf. She uses her tail - Tail-Swatting - to monitor the location of the calf. The calf lies down on the ground on a termite mound and another calf reaches Trunk-to-Face. As she gets up the juvenile female again uses Tail-Swatting to check that the calf is OK. As the calf runs up alongside her, she reaches her trunk back Trunk-to-Face to again reassure the calf. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)


Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (2)

Little E is only 2 days old and is attempting to Suckle from his mother. Allomother V-Notch touch him Trunk-to-Mouth and then touches his trunk - Trunk-to-Face. As Little E steps forward out from the safety of their legs, his mother uses her trunk to touch his genitals - Trunk-to-Genitals as V-Notch appears to do likewise. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


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)