Two Asian elephants have been spotted making use of a new tool — their own breath. When they can’t get food in their enclosure, they use their trunks as leaf-blowers to bring it closer to them.
In what was probably the most pleasant experiment in history — other than the one that led to Schaum’s Puppy Cuddling Theorem of 2005 — a group of scientists from SOKENDAI spent a few days at the Kamine Zoo feeding elephants. The only drawback was that they couldn’t feed elephants directly. Instead, they placed the food, which included hay, apples, potatoes, bamboo, and leaves, in inaccessible areas of the elephant enclosure.
Once they’d put the food out, they watched the elephants go after it. When the food was out of reach, the elephants would use their trunks to blow the food closer to them. The scientists analysed the position of the trunks, the duration of the blow, and the elephant’s proximity to the food. They found that the elephants were less likely to try to leaf-blow the food if the food was closer to them and they could reach it through other means. They noticed, as well, that the elephants often started with little experimental puffs and blew harder once they’d confirmed that the action brought the food closer.
This discovery shows that elephants may have a better idea of their surroundings (and how to manipulate those surroundings) than we give them credit for. The research team believes that an elephant’s breath might now be considered a tool — albeit a tool unique to one species.