“One of Nature’s Masterpieces”
THAT is how a South African scientist describes an elephant’s trunk. This boneless, muscular extension enables the elephant to suck up a gallon [4 L] of water and then to squirt it into its mouth. Without this ability, the huge animal would have an awkward job kneeling down for every drink. The trunk also enables it to eat 500 or more pounds [230 kg] of vegetation a day. Thus, elephants are in danger of starvation if this vital organ gets severely injured.
The trunk is used in many other ways, such as for trumpeting an alarm, caressing a calf, or smacking a baby when it is naughty. It is often used to spray its owner with water or mud. Why mud? Probably to protect its skin from heat and insects. Why does an elephant sometimes lift its trunk into the air like a periscope? To feel the direction of the wind and to catch the scent of an intruder. Yes, in addition to being a sensitive organ of touch, this versatile organ is also an extension of the nose. The late Jim Williams, in his book Elephant Bill, relates some interesting ways elephants use their trunks:
“If he cannot reach with his trunk some part of his body that itches, he doesn’t always rub it against a tree; he may pick up a long stick and give himself a good scratch with that, instead. If one stick isn’t long enough, he will look for another which is.
“If he pulls up some grass, and it comes up by the roots with a lump of earth, he will smack it against his foot until all the earth is shaken off, or, if water is handy, he will wash it clean, before putting it into his mouth.”
For over 20 years, Williams doctored elephants trained to transport wood in the Burmese teak forests. But he sometimes failed in hiding medication in a sick elephant’s food. With his trunk, explains Williams, “he will extract a pill (the size of an aspirin tablet) from a tamarind fruit the size of a cricket ball in which one has planted it, with an air of saying: ‘You can’t kid me.’”
“Elephants,” he continues, “can also detach a closely clinging creeper, like ivy, from a tree far more skilfully than can a man working with two hands. This is due to their greater delicacy of touch.”
So next time you see an elephant in a game park or zoo, why not do as suggested by Dr. Gerrie de Graaff in the African wildlife magazine Custos: “View the animal with the awe and respect due to it and allow yourself some time to ponder about and see one of nature’s masterpieces in action—the elephant’s trunk.” Then ask yourself, ‘Who should be credited for such a remarkably versatile organ?’ The Bible’s answer to that question is that Jehovah God made “every moving animal of the ground according to its kind” and that he “saw everything he had made and, look! it was very good.”—Genesis 1:25, 31.