Research project: Elephant trunk

One of the most conspicuous features of elephants is their trunk. It plays an important role in food uptake, drinking and social behavior. The trunk is also employed in tool use and elephants can apparently even be differentiated into those that prefer left-“trunking” or right-“trunking”.

Aim

This research project focuses on the tactile behavior of African elephants and particularly on the many types of behavior involving touching with the trunk. In order to close the gaps in our knowledge of how the trunk is used, the elephants at Schönbrunn Zoo are being examined in detail.

Relevance

Currently no comprehensive data are available on how exactly and how often African elephants use their trunks in comparison to other body parts. A better understanding of this aspect would help to tailor future experiments testing the cognitive abilities of elephants to their specific capabilities.

Method

The tactile behavior of African elephants at Schönbrunn Zoo is being documented based on an observation protocol, supported by photo- and video material. For this purpose, each elephant cow will be observed separately over the course of several hours. This will be supplemented by feeding experiments along with detailed photographs and video recordings to document how elephants employ their trunks.