Reaching of the trunk to touch, or near touch the genitals of another. Trunk-to-Genitals is a common behavior and occurs between elephants of all age/sex groups in a broad range of contexts. It is likely that such behaviour is often related to assessment of physical or sexual state, such as male assessment of female receptivity and female and male assessment of male musth state, or assessing the physical state of an infant.
Yet, it is not always the case that this behavior has an olfactory function. For instance calves Soliciting-Suckling have been observed to touch and even ‘pinch’ their mother’s genitals in an action that appears to be aimed at getting her attention. Likewise, mothers and allomothers touch the genitals of infants, apparently to get their attention before moving off or in an attempt to Guide them toward or away from something. Mothers and allomothers also regularly touch the genitals of infants in what appears to be a gesture of reassurance.
Trunk-to-Genitals often occurs during greetings between various age/sex individuals and during Sparring mostly between males. Elephants are very tactile animals with a tremendously perceptive sense of smell. More research is required to fully understand why elephants touch the genitals of other elephants.
References: Jainudeen et al 1971; Eisenberg et al 1971; Douglas-Hamilton 1972: ch 6; Poole 1982: 37 illustration & 174; Poole 1987b; Rasmussen et al 1982; Rasmussen & Wittemyer 2002; Poole & Granli 2003; Poole & Granli 2004; Poole & Granli 2011 [Test-Genitals; Test-Penis]. (Full reference list)
This behavior occurs in the following context(s): Advertisement & Attraction, Affiliative, Birth, Calf Nourishment & Weaning, Calf Reassurance & Protection, Courtship, Social Play