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)