25 Feb

Trunked up charges


For as long as I can remember, I have fostered a very deep love for the African Bush. One of the iconic constituents of the bush I grew up admiring, was the Elephant. An unusual design, which makes a memorable moment, no matter the scene. Often just seen feeding, calmly by themselves, the impact of this moment is sadly quite often lost to us guides, but for a first time safari goer, this is the “Eiffel tower” moment of their safari. What makes Elephants so unique and iconic? To me its the trunk! An incredible appendage, that sets Elephants apart from all others in the African bush. It’s actually the most versatile appendage on the planet, more versatile than any other appendage from any other species on the planet. Elephants use their trunks to feed, drink, bathe, dust bathe, fight, communicate and even swim with their trunks. So here are some incredible facts about an Elephants trunk.


  • An Elephant can lift up to 350kg with its trunk. While the power to weight ratio of an Elephant is quite low, it can lift 5% of its body weight with its trunk. This is because Elephants have about 40,000 muscles in their trunks, compared to 639 muscles in the entire human body. These 40,000 muscles are arranged in 6 major muscle groups.
  • An Elephants sense of smell is four times better than a Blood hound. This is because of millions of receptor cells in the upper nasal cavity, which of course forms part of the trunk. It is said that Elephants can smell water from several miles away.

    An Elephants scents the air as I approach her. A behavioral indication of the importance of smell to Elephants. ISO 500, F8, 1/400sec

  • An Elephants trunk can be up to 7 feet long and 180kg in weight
  • The working of the trunk is very similar to our tongue. They are both Hydrostats, which means that they use water pressure to move and work. So moving your tongue around would probably give you a good indication of what an Elephant feels when using its trunk.
  • The most interesting fact about an Elephants trunk though, is that they have “2 fingers” at the end of the trunk. These fingers are made up of 2 prehensile muscles, which are there to be able to grab or pick things up. This is what gives Elephants the ability to pick small Marula fruits up, but still pick 350kg up a few minutes later.


Text and Photography by Darren Donovan