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


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)


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)


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)