Does anybody know how Mafunyane created suction in his trunk? He had a 10 cm hole in his head which extended 40 cm into his skull and thus, into his nasal cavity. I understand that this did not have any adverse effects on him and that he was a fully functioning elephant (otherwise how could he have grown such great tusks). But how would he have sucked water into his trunk in order to drink?
Well, here is the answer:
Dr Ian Whyte wrote:
I am not an elephant physiologist, so this answer may be rather simplistic - apologies to any elephant physiologists out there, but please correct me if this is wide of the mark!
I think that whoever posted this item on the forum has probably covered the answer in his questions. I believe that when they darted Mafunyane to fit the radio collar, he was found to be able to draw air in to his respiratory system through the hole in his head. This means the hole penetrated right through his skull, probably as far as his mouth. I never saw him drink, but I suspect that he must have been able to block the hole (probably with the back of his tongue) to enable the creation of enough suction to draw water up the trunk. Elephants exhibit some characteristics from their aquatic ancestry including the development of a trunk. Related to the development of a trunk are two additional adaptations. They have no pleural cavity, and the lungs are fused to the chest wall and diaphragm. This adaptation is thought to be a protection against the high negative intra-thoracic pressures attained when water has to be sucked up the trunk before drinking (Gaeth et al. 1999).
Water is therefore drawn up the trunk by suction created by "breathing in while the tip of the trunk is under the water". Mafunyane would have therefore have had to block the hole in the roof of his mouth to prevent the loss of this negative pressure, otherwise no water could have been sucked up the trunk.
I do not think that an elephant would be able to ingest enough water by lapping like a dog. The tongue of an elephant can not be extended far enough to allow it to be inserted into a water source. Also, the tongue is too smooth and would not "hold" water while lapping. A dog's tongue is quite coarse and can hold quite a lot of water, while an elephants is rather smooth like a human's. Try lapping water and you will see that it would be a lengthy process to ingest enough water to satisfy a good thirst!
Elephants suffering from "floppy trunk" have been seen to wade into water until deep enough to allow water to flow directly into the mouth, so maybe if Mafunyane was not able to suck up water in the normal way, he would have done this.
Gaeth, A.P., Short, R.V. & Renfree, M.B. 1999. The developing renal, reproductive, and respritory systems of the African elephant suggest an aquatic ancestry. Proceedings of the National Academy Sciences USA 96:
I hope that this is useful and of some interest to our readers.
With best wishes
Dr Ian Whyte
Research Manager: Large Herbivores
Kruger National Park
: The photos from our trip! Overhere! Feel free to use any of these additional letters to correct the spelling of words found in the above post: a-e-t-n-d-i-o-s-m-l-u-y-h-c