Reaching of the trunk to touch or near touch, or place into the mouth of another. Trunk-to-Mouth is a very common elephant behavior and occurs between elephants of all age/sex groups in a broad range of contexts.

In an Aggressive context Trunk-to-Mouth appears to be a Conciliatory gesture. In an Affiliative context between both relatives and non-relatives Trunk-to-Mouth as well as Reciprocal-Trunk-to-Mouth is observed during all manner of Greeting and Bonding situations.

In a Coalition Building context, Trunk-to-Mouth as well as Reciprocal-Trunk-to-Mouth is commonly observed when elephants bunch together to face off a common threat and appears to function in reinforcing bonds and reassuring one another.

In a Calf Reassurance & Protection context, Trunk-to-Mouth is a common component of Caressing behavior displayed by mothers and allomothers toward infants and calves during care, reassurance and protection. Mothers may also use Trunk-to-Mouth to get the attention of infants before moving off or in an attempt to Guide them toward or away from something. In some cases mothers use an exaggerated movement in which they touch the infant’s mouth and then drawing the infants head up and in the correct direction by sliding the along the underside of the infants trunk. A mother may also cover the mouth of a crying infant with her trunk fingers as if to console.

In a Calf Nourishment & Weaning context infants and calves use Trunk-to-Mouth to Solicit-Food from their mothers or others.

In a Social Play context Trunk-to-Mouth as well as Reciprocal-Trunk-to-Mouth is observed particularly during Sparring.

The above is a cursory description of one of the most quintessential elephant behaviors and much research is needed to understand the full function of this gentle gesture.

References: Douglas-Hamilton 1972: ch 6; Buss, Rasmussen & Smuts 1976; Moss 1981; Lee 1986; Lee 1987; Poole 1982; Poole 1996: 137; Rasmussen 1988; Poole & Granli 2003; Poole & Granli 2004; Poole & Granli 2011; O’Connell-Rodwell et al 2011 [Test-Mouth]. (Full reference list)

This behavior occurs in the following context(s): Advertisement & Attraction, Affiliative, Birth, Calf Reassurance & Protection, Coalition Building, Social Play


Context: Coalition Building (1)

The Mabenzi family Bunching as they walk. They are on their way to water and were caught out the open and are concerned. Then they stop walking and Bunch, Standing-Tall. Marcela, gf0017, reaches Trunk-to-Mouth to Valente, gf0013 x 2 with gf0025 between them. The audio is just wind noise but note the vocalizing posture after Marcela has touched Valente - she turns facing out with Mwana Nzo, both Head-Raising and Ear-Lifting. Then they are on the move again in a tight Group-March. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)


Context: Coalition Building (2)

An End-Zone-Dance is a form of Bonding-Ceremony that takes place after a defensive action. This End-Zone-Dance took place after multiple Group-Advances and multiple Group- and sustained Charges by members of the Mabenzi family. After Valente's almost two minute Charge which was joined by the entire family, Valente and Mwana Nzo High-Five and others all gather in an End-Zone-Dance. The main players - Valente and Mwana-Nzo Rumble with Open-Mouth, while they display Rapid-Ear-Flapping, Head-Raising, Tail-Raising, and Defecating. They reach their trunks to one another's mouth, Trunk-to-Mouth, and then display Trunk-Twining, Open-Mouth-to-Open-Mouth. Intermittently there are Social-Trumpets. Then Mwana Nzo initiates another Group Advance. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)


Context: Coalition Building (3)

This clip is taken from a longer sequence of behavior of the I family. As the clip starts matriarch iJunia, gf0005, has slowed her Charge to a Bow-Neck-Advance-Toward. She takes the lead with Isabella, gf0038, by her side and a tiny baby in tow. Someone gives a Trumpet-Blast and iJunia Head-Dips. They stop near us and Isabella reaches Trunk-to-Mouth to iJunia. They Bunch facing us Standing-Tall and Head-Swinging and iJunia Head-Dip-Touch-Ground. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)


Context: Coalition Building (4)

Provocadora, gf0012, has initiated this Group-Advance, which Mwana Nzo, gf0012, now leads - Advancing-Toward us still with a mouthful of food. Behind her Provocadora moves toward Valente, gf0013, and displays Open-Mouth as she reaches her Trunk-to-Mouth to Valente. We see Provocadora raise her head - Head-Raising - in a High-Five and hear what sounds like a Social-Trumpet. This is part of coalition building as they join forces in this Group-Advance instigated by Provocadora. We believe this is a reciprocal Trunk-to-Mouth. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)