A video of a wild elephant in India exhaling ashes has stumped experts worldwide as it is the first document of what appears to be a pachyderm “smoking.”
The video was shot in 2016 by Vinay Kumar, a scientist from the Indian branch of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), in Karnataka state’s Nagarhole Forest, but released recently “after experts realized its biological significance.”
In the video the female elephant, standing near a carpet of charcoal from a burnt forest floor, seemingly ingests the charcoal.
It then exhales the ashes – which appear as puffs of smoke – before walking away.
“This incredibly unusual behaviour of the elephant blowing out ashes is puzzling the scientific community.
“Nobody is quite sure what is going on,” Kumar said.
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Varun Goswami, an elephant biologist with WCS, said he believed the elephant was ingesting the charcoal, which has toxin-binding properties and can serve as a laxative, for medicinal reasons.
WCS said the video is the first known video documentation of a wild elephant exhibiting such behaviour.
“The video has taken the internet by storm, going viral on social media sites, and is being shared by international wildlife agencies,” Kumar said.
Charcoal consumption has never before been observed in elephants, although monkeys in Zanzibar have been known to do it to counteract toxins.
Charcoal ash has traditionally been used for dental hygiene in India.
“After the video was circulated, there was also this speculation that the elephant was trying to cure a toothache,” Kumar said.