Trunk-to-Genitals

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

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Advertisement & Attraction (1)

In slo-mo: A young adult male gm0049 approaches large adult female Valente, gf0013, who is Urinating. He reaches his Trunk-to-Genitals under her belly, though we cannot see very well. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Advertisement & Attraction (2)

Pictured are the Mabenzi family members and musth male, Gogogo. Gogogo approaches Valente and tests her Trunk-to-Genitals. She Tail-Swats him. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Advertisement & Attraction (3)

Pictured are the Mabenzi family members and musth male, Gogogo. Gogogo reaches toward a juvenile female and tests her Trunk-to-Genitals. Then he reaches Trunk-to-Genitals to Valente and tests her. She Tail-Swats him. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Advertisement & Attraction (4)

A group is resting in the shade under a tree. A young male with splayed tusks reaches Trunk-to-Genitals to test an adolescent female. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Advertisement & Attraction (5)

Little E is 8 days old and his mother is being tested by a young male who reaches Trunk-to-Genitals. He is especially interested in the blood "stain" on her leg from the birth. He Flehmens after sniffing it. Then he proceeds to reach his Trunk-to-Genitals of another female. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Advertisement & Attraction (6)

A large male with a collar named Polaris, is moving through the group testing females. He tests (Trunk-to-Genitals) an adolescent female. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Advertisement & Attraction (7)

An adult female Advances-Toward a younger female who Retreats-From. A young male follows and tests (Trunk-to-Genitals) the advancing female. She monitors him with a Look-Back and Trunk-Toward. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Advertisement & Attraction (8)

As the clip starts we see an adult female starting to walk into center frame. Then a young male walks into frame from the left. As the young male approaches the female turns quickly to Rump-Present to him and he reaches Trunk-to-Genitals to test her.

As a second female walks into frame we can see the male performing Flehmen and then he sniffs her again. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Advertisement & Attraction (9)

A young male walks toward an adult female (larger than he is) and sniffs her genitals (Trunk-to-Genitals). Simultaneously, an infant raises its Trunk-Toward him and touches him. The adult female Look-Back at him and Touch-Self. He puts his trunk in his mouth to Flehmen, and considers. Then he Ear-Brushes her, in a pushy rather than totally friendly way, and Forward-Trunk-Swing at her x 2 or is this a Trunk-Toward.

On the second one a tuskless adolescent (foreground right) raises Trunk-Toward him in a Forward-Trunk-Swing kind of motion, as if she is intervening to help her presumptive mother. It is as if the normally friendly Ear-Brush is compensation for what is otherwise pushy behavior by a young male. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (1)

The scene is of members of the C family: A one year old male approaches gf0080’s 6 month old calf and does a Play-Reach-Over. A juvenile female allomother approaches and reaches her Trunk-to-Genitals of the little female as if making sure she is ok. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (2)

The clip starts with calves belonging to the C family - a one year old male is feeding on lianas or stolons. A 6 month female comes over and they Spar. The female tries to get the grass he was feeding on, and he holds it over his head and then drops it. She looks for it in the grass and seems to find it, but meanwhile he starts a Play-Reach-Over game, bothering her.

An allomother appears in the background as if coming to police the situation. She appears to reach her Trunk-to-Genitals of the little female as if to reassure her and stands beside them as if to break up the rough-housing. She takes a mouthful of grass and then uses a Trunk-to-Mouth to the little male as if to gently push him away. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (3)

Little E is 5 days old. His mother is browsing and pauses to touch him Trunk-to-Mouth and then Trunk-to-Genitals. When she touches his genitals he gives a High-Intensity-Husky-Cry which is drowned out by the wind. His mother immediately responds by putting her Trunk-to-Mouth again, this time covering his mouth almost as if to say "there, there, hush now" and then gently draws her trunk down his.

At the same time allomother Lorato responds to his call by a Trunk-to-Genitals touch. Little E gets a semi erection from all the touching and gets all "itchy" again, using his hind legs to try to scratch his penis. More touching of his genitals by his mother and Lorato takes place and his attention is drawn to Lorato who turns away drawing him with her. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (4)

There is no audio. A 5 year old male from Big Mama's family looks to be alarmed by something and raises his head and spreads his ears. An adolescent female out of view reaches out with her trunk to reassure the calf (Trunk-to-Mouth) whereupon he appears to vocalize - Head-Raising and Ear-Lifting and then he Retreat-From into the safety of the family. The adolescent female reaches to reassure him again with two Trunk-to-Genitals. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (6)

Little E is 2 days old and is standing next to his mother and allomother Lorato. Lorato touches him Trunk-to-Mouth and then Trunk-to-Genitals. Little E shakes his head and walks over to his mother to try to Suckle. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (7)

Little E is 2 days old and is standing next to his mother and allomother Lorato. Lorato adopts her Circus-Pose as she Waits. She seems to sense that she may be able to get him to follow her and she turns sharply left. He follows her movement and she follows him away from his mother monitoring him closely. He ends up on sharp thorns and seems unsure what to do. He is moving in a topsy-turvey way on the thorns and she turns to touch him, first Trunk-to Body (under belly) then under his chin, then Trunk-to-Genitals and then under his chin again - lifting his head up. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (8)

Little E is 4 days old and is Sheltering under his mother. He leaves his "house" to go to Sniff-Dung, which is fresh. His mother reaches over and touches him Trunk-to-Genitals in what appears to be a way of distracting him and changing his activity. He immediately turns around and goes back to Sheltering. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (9)

Little E is 1 month old and all itchy today. He Rubs against Lorato and she touches him Trunk-to-Genitals. He “spars” with her trunk pushing it. She touches him Trunk-to-Gentials again. He comes running toward the car and his allomothers become alarmed. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (10)

Two infants are playing - an older male and younger female. A 5 year old juvenile female is keeping an eye on them - note her raised, attentive ears. The little male has an erection and the juvenile female seems to notice it - swinging her trunk back a couple of times. Then she reverses and reaches to touches the male's genitals (Trunk-to-Genitals) reaching between and then around in front of his hind legs. She reaches back to touch the mouth and face (Trunk-to-Mouth) of the little female.

The little male reaches up Trunk-to-Mouth to touch the 5 year allomother. Adult female, gf0089, approaches and they seem to be associated with her. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Affiliative (1)

Two groups that have been in the vicinity of one another have come together and engage in a Greeting-Ceremony. In this sub-section of the sequence we see Matriarch gf0070 move toward the approaching group and they Greet. We can see Rapid-Ear-Flapping, Ear-Folding, Trunk-to-Mouth and Trunk-to-Genitals. During the greeting two calves reach Trunk-to-Genitals to matriarch gf0070 and then, later an adolescent female reaches Trunk-to-Genitals to a male calf. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Affiliative (2)

Provocadora’s 7-8 year adolescent female reaches Trunk-to-Genitals to what we believe is her younger sibling - a male calf about 1.5 years old. This takes place during an affiliative encounter. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Affiliative (3)

Two young males come together and greet one another. The arriving male greets the one standing Trunk-to-Mouth. The one standing greets the arriving male Trunk-to-Temporal-Glands and then Trunk-to-Genitals x 3. There is no audio. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Affiliative (4)

Two males walk toward one another; the younger male stops and Waits, J-Trunk, Ear-Spreading and Chin-Out in expectation for the older male, Viajante, to approach. As the larger male arrives and keeps on walking the younger male Backs-Away, reaches Trunk-to-Mouth and then Trunk-to-Genitals. Viajante continues on. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Calf Nourishment & Weaning (1)

A 6 year old male is walking along side his mother and matriarch, Selengei. He Solicit-Suckling. Selengei puts her foot deliberately back blocking his access; he gives a soft Suckle-Rumble. She permits him to Suckle.

While Suckling he touches her other breast with his trunk x 2 and then goes around to the other side to try there, testing her genitals twice (Trunk-to-Genitals) as he does (and we believe causing her to adjust position as if to pee like she would if a big male tested her!). He Suckles, but then she decides to move on. He emits two more Suckle-Rumbles; she pauses and then finally moves on and he gives another louder, more complaining Suckle-Rumble. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Calf Nourishment & Weaning (2)

This is part of a long and interesting suckling sequence. Apologies for all the chit-chat in the audio. Selengei's demanding 6 year old son is Suckling. There is a lot of rumbling as other members of the family want to depart. Her son finishes on one side but is not done and goes around the back to the other side. As we have seen before he pauses to touch her Trunk-to Genitals before another bout of Suckling. Still he has not had enough and on the way back to the first side he pauses to hold her leg (Grasp-Leg). It seems these are tactics to signal his demands to his mother. We hear a couple of Begging-Rumbles. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Calf Nourishment & Weaning (3)

A 6-8 year old adolescent female is walking alongside her mother f0257 and has adopted the persistent walk and close body contact of a calf who is Solicit-Suckling. She reaches her trunk out and touches - or rather appears to pinch (!) her mother's genitals (Trunk-to-Genitals) x 2 as if to get her mother's to pay attention.

We do actually believe this is what she is doing as there are a couple of other examples of this behavior. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Social Play (1)

The footage is a bit far away to clearly see what is happening, but two adult males gm0016 and gm0049 are engaged in a bout of Sparring. gm0049 has turned away from gm0016 and permits him to sniff his genitals - Trunk-to-Genitals. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Social Play (2)

Two males are Sparring - gm0009 with a broken leg is on the right and a slightly smaller male on the left. Gm0009 is forced back, but then Pushes back against the other male. It gets rough and then gm0009 turns and Rump-Presents and Tail-Swats. The smaller male touches him Trunk-to-Genitals. The Trunk-to-Genitals seems to be a Conciliatory gesture. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Social Play (3)

There are 3 adolescent/juvenile males. The male on the left with the broken leg, is gm0009. He is the oldest and was a bystander while the other two were Sparring. The smallest male, facing us, appears to become angry and overly aggressive, attacking the male with his back to us, Ramming into him and forcing him back. Then gm0009 seems to intervene and the two pause as if thinking better of the game. The male with his back to us Touch-Self.

In what appears to be an act of Conciliation gm0009 touches the smallest male, who seems to Rump-Present and gm0009 leans into him and touch him Trunk-to-Genitals. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Social Play (4)

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)

Trunk-to-Genitals

Context: Aggressive (1)

This is a short section of a close to three hour Escalated-Contest in which an older male intervenes to help the male with the broken tusks at least 5 times. In this last incidence of this behavior the older male enters from the right and immediately the broken tusked male Advances-Toward the longer-tusked male with a very aggressive posture - Open-Mouth, Trunk-Curled-Under as if to bounce or drag. Ears-Folded he moves rapidly toward the longer-tusked male who Backs-Away. The older male follows them in a lazy sort of way.

The broken tusked male is really pushing for a fight and they make contact briefly. But the older male comes up close to them; it is hard to tell but it looks as if he gives the aggressor a slight threat and he appears to Retreat-From. The longer-tusked male also Retreats-From, but then stops a few steps away in an expectant sort of way. The older male reaches Trunk-to-Genitals in what we believe is a Conciliatory gesture. The longer-tusked male Tail-Swats him and the older male touches his tail. The older male Walks-Away and that is the last time he intervenes in this Escalated-Contest. (Amboseli, Kenya)