It seems great things do happen in threes as following on from Part 1 and Part 2 of this investigation, it seems we have finally struck gold. No hyenas were able to reach the camera – this was the first victory.
The second victory was the incredible footage of elephants investigating the skull, right in front of the camera.
Watching the footage, it was clear that at least three different individuals within a herd investigated the skull with their trunks. There is possibly even a fourth elephant that has a turn, but it’s difficult to conclude with the gaps in the footage and the narrow field of view. What is phenomenal to note is that the group spent close to 20 minutes investigating the skull. That is a long period of time to be sniffing around the same spot. Could they be mourning a lost member of their herd? Or was it an unrelated elephant?
Research in the wild has shown that elephants show increased interest towards elephant bones over other species bones when presented with a choice. The same research revealed that when presented with a choice of elephant ivory vs. elephant skull vs. a stick, the elephants spent significantly longer investigating the ivory over the other two objects. This was surprising to me but when one delves into it, the findings make perfect sense. Elephants will frequently touch each others tusks in greetings and for many years will have become familiar with other herd members through these tactile encounters. In contrast, how can we expect elephants to be familiar with the inside of each others skulls?
After posting Part 1 of this investigative series, Londolozi Alumni Kelly Cresswell sent me some fascinating footage of elephants investigating a different skull in a different reserve just north of Londolozi. I was not surprised to see similar behaviour being observed in a different area, but one thing in particular really struck me. In both cases (Kelly’s and ours) an elephant is shown walking over the skull then turning to kick the skull backwards with its heel. This strange action at first seemed humorous – without personifying – maybe an attempt to resolve an old grudge with a lost comrade… This is definitely not the case, but the behaviour as far as I am aware remains unexplained.
We are happy to have solved our mystery of the moving elephant skull, however as is life, one question has led to another.
Has anyone observed elephants kicking bones or skulls with their heel?