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Elephants Obtain Inacessible Food By Blasting Air Through Their Trunks

First Posted: Nov 05, 2015 01:28 PM EST
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Elephants use their trunks to reach hard-to-get food by blasting air through the appendage, according to a recent study.

As prevous studies have suggest that these animals may use their breath to reach inaccessible foods, there is rather limited research on testing out the behavior in an experimental setting.

During this recent study, researchers from The Graduate University for advanced studies (SOKENDAI) and Kyoto University examined two female captive elephants at the Kamine Zoo in Japan: Mineko and Suzuko. Researchers predicted that the harder to reach the food was for them, the more they would blast it with air so they could get it.

The researchers digitally mapped out a grid in a ditch in the elephants' enclosure in which they placed food in various locations on a "virtual" grid. They used five different types of food that included apples, bamboo, hay, fallen leaves and potatoes, and they filmed the elephants behavior for over a period of 32 days, which they split into 128 trials. A trial was based on audibility from the elephants trying to blow and pick up something to eat. Then, they analyzed how long the elephant used its trunk, the movements, the shape of the elephant's trunk during the process, the duration and whether there was success in grasping the food.

They found that it typically took three blasts to successfully grasp hard to reach food. However, for easy to reach food, elephants were less likely to exhibit such behavior.

"By blowing air through their trunks to obtain inaccessible food, the elephants appear to exhibit an advanced understanding of their physical environment," said lead study author Kaori Mizuno, in a news release. "Their skills to manipulate air might be related to those elephants commonly use, such as blowing for self-comfort and acoustic communication."

The study is published in BioMed Central.

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