BENGALURU: In one of the latest insights into the behaviour of wild elephants, a rare video of one smoking in Nagarhole forests has been captured by a scientist from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), India. It appears to be ingesting charcoal and blowing ashes in a burnt forest floor during the summer month of April, 2016. This unusual behaviour has baffled experts and scientists worldwide as this is the first such photographic or video documentation of a pachyderm smoking.
This rare video was shot by Vinay Kumar, Assistant Director of WCS India and captures a wild Asian elephant exhibiting incredibly unusual behaviour – seemingly ingesting charcoal and blowing out the ashes! The video was taken while he and his colleague Srikanth Rao and their field staff were checking in on their installed camera-traps in the park as part of WCS India’s long-term monitoring of tiger and prey populations in Nagarhole National Park.
According to Vinay Kumar, they had just entered a partially burnt patch of the moist deciduous forests, when they suddenly came face to face with a female elephant standing calmly on the side of the road. “This was not an unusual sighting, but what we saw her doing was something that I had never witnessed before, and it has probably not been commonly captured on film earlier either. As cameras clicked, I switched on to the video mode and filmed what would be an amazing sight to behold, a behaviour that has had experts trying to decipher the exact nature of the action. What we saw that day almost appeared as though the elephant was smoking – she would draw up a trunk full of ash close to her mouth and blow it out in a puff of smoke.”
Dr Varun R Goswami, elephant biologist and senior scientist with WCS India Program believes most probably, the elephant was trying to ingest wood charcoal, as she appeared to be picking up something from the burnt forest floor, blowing away the ash that came along with it in her trunk, and consuming the rest. He adds, “Charcoal has well-recognised toxin-binding properties, and although it may not have much nutritional content, wild animals may be attracted to it for its medicinal value.”