Elephants and Water

1. November 2018

Elephants’ early ancestors were aquatic creatures and to this day they retain certain features of this ancestry, such as the anatomy of their middle ear. They still have aquatic cousins, the dugongs or manatees. Even though today elephants live on land they have never lost their affinity for water.

Elephants in the wild, once in the water bathing and swimming, have way too much fun to get out too soon. They submerge like hippos and spout like whales, rolling and splashing and swimming under water, using their trunks for snorkeling and emerging like submarines. And great fun does not always have to occur in deep water; rolling  around in the mud with siblings and cousins is just as pleasurable.

African elephants enjoying the water. Photo credit: Anita Martingano / shutterstock

And yet, being in the water is not only based on elephants’ genes dating back to their aquatic ancestors, but as so much with elephants, they need to be taught how to swim. Elephant mothers are most careful and patient to teach their babies how to get into the water. After touching the water with her trunk a number of times, a mother carefully steps into the water. The baby follows and wraps her trunk around the mother’s tusk for support. Getting in deeper, the baby starts to float, carefully guided with the help of the mother’s trunk. Once introduced, elephants will seek water to bath and swim for the rest of their lives, and given the right opportunity, are among the best swimmers of all land mammals.

Elephant mother teaching her baby how to swim: Photo: / pinterest