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: Calf Reassurance & Protection (1)

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)


Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (2)

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 drown 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)


Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (3)

Little E is 3 days old and is standing between Mama Little E and Lorato. He starts to walk forward and his mother touches his on his chest (Trunk-to-Body) as if to distract him and keep him close. He emits a Husky-Cry. His mother then raises her Trunk-to-Mouth covering it with her trunk. Almost as if to say, "There, there, hush, now".

They both respond to his cry with Coo-Rumbles to him. Then Mama touches him Trunk-to-Genitals and he gives another Husky-Cry whereupon both touch him Trunk-to-Mouth again. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (4)

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 a Trunk-to-Genitals. There is no audio. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (5)

Little E is only 2 days old and is attempting to Suckle from his mother, who reaches back as if to help him. During a pause allomother V-Notch touches him Trunk-to-Mouth and touches his trunk perhaps to draw his attention toward her. As Little E steps forward out from the safety of their legs, his mother uses her trunk to touch his genitals - Trunk-to-Genitals as V-Notch appears to do likewise. These touches stop him in his tracks and he looks almost shocked by the bright sunlight and the touches. He goes no further. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (6)

Little E is standing next to Allomother Lorato, who is browsing on a bush. His mother Mama Little E is faced away in the background. Little E seems to feel itchy and is using his hind leg to try to scratch his penis. Lorato puts her trunk down and touches his genitals (Trunk-to-Genitals). Little E has a semi-erection.

As the clip start Lorato goes back to feeding and then as Little E begins to explore she draws his attention back to her by touching him Trunk-to-Genitals and then Trunk-to-Mouth. He turns and stands close to her. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (7)

Little E is a month old and is with allomother Lorato. It is not clear why, but Lorato reaches Trunk-to-Mouth and literally covers his open mouth with her open trunk fingers - as if she may be sniffing? Then she does it a second time. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (8)

A 5.5 year old juvenile female and 1.5 year old male stand together on a termite mound. The male has been sniffing dung. The female is concerned about the filmmakers presence, but perhaps also about the dung. She reaches past dung and around his mouth and touches him gently Trunk-to-Mouth covering his mouth x 2. Then she uses her hind foot, in a protective gesture, to Shepherd him to safety behind her and climbs to the top of the termite mound and displays Standing-Tall and Ear-Spreading, as if to protect him. Then, feeling a little silly and unsure she places her trunk in her mouth (Trunk-Sucking) and Backs-Away off the termite mound in a Bow-Neck posture and disappears behind a bush. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (9)

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. She touches the male's genitals (Trunk-to-Genitals) reaching between and around his hind legs. Then 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)


Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (10)

Qoral's newborn is trying to Suckle and gives a soft Husky-Cry which is answered by Coo-Rumbles by mother and allomother. The infant gives another louder Husky-Cry and mother and allomother touch the infant Trunk-to-Mouth and Coo-Rumble again. The allomother lingers over the touch placing her trunk fingers over the calf's open mouth and pulling his face upwards, then gives another Coo-Rumble. (Amboseli, Kenya)