An elephant getting down on its knees is an invitation to play. Typically an older female juvenile or calf will lie or kneel down, encouraging younger individuals to climb on top of her. A larger male will lower himself down on his knees to encourage a smaller male who has shown reluctance to Spar. Kneel-Down can refer to either or both fore- and hind legs.

References: Moss 1988; Lee 1986; Poole 1996; Poole 1998b; Poole & Granli 2003; Poole & Granli 2004; Poole & Granli 2011. (Full reference list)

This behavior occurs in the following context(s): Social Play


Context: Social Play (1)

Two calves are Sparring - one about 2 years old and the other about 4 years old. The smaller calf looks apprehensive standing in an expectant Periscope-Trunk posture. The larger calf lowers him or herself onto its knees.

This behavior is not uncommon to see when elephants of very different size Spar. It is always the larger elephant who Kneels-Down and we conclude that the motivation is to appear smaller and less threatening to their playmate. We count this as a form of Helping behavior. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)


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-Present and Tail-Swats allowing the smaller male to touch him Trunk-to-Genitals. The Trunk-to-Genitals seems to be a Conciliatory gesture. After this the younger male backs up and Kneels-Down. The two face one another while he is on his knees.

This behavior is not uncommon when there are differing sizes or abilities between two Sparring partners as if the more competent wants to make himself less threatening to the broken-legged male. This is a kind of Helping behavior. Thereafter they continue the game. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)


Context: Social Play (3)

Two juveniles from Big Mama's family are engaged in a bout of play. As the clip starts the male calf on the left is in a Sitting position and the juvenile female on the right is Kneeling-Down. They purposefully lean towards one another, pressing their bodies together. The male Reaches-Over the female and she Tusks-Ground first on one side and then the other, and then flops her body sideways and kicks her hind leg in the air. She wiggles about for a bit and then Stands up. The male calf also Stands and then gives her a little Push. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)