Friday, 9 July 2010


No, this is not about the United Nations Organization, or Ban Ki-moon.
This is a continuation of the previous post, and concerns Uno, the one-tusked male elephant.

It turned out that Uno was in musth.

Musth is a sexually active phase in sexually mature male elephants. I use the phrase, 'sexually mature' instead of just 'mature' because when it comes to elephant ecology, we also talk about social maturity. Although the male Asian Elephants attain sexual maturity at the age of 9-12 years, it is known to take 8-10 more years for them to reach social maturity—an important quality that the females look for in their suitors. So the young bulls subjected to such cruel female choice are known to suffer from SINBAD syndrome: Single Income, No Babe, Absolutely Desperate!

Uno was not a hopeless SINBAD case, for the girls seemed to like him.

One in particular, which I named Gal, was quite flirtatious with him.
She maintained proximity, caressed him, allowed to be caressed, and generally didn't appear difficult.

Here's Uno taking a shower while Gal watches over.

Male elephants in musth can be identified easily by their swollen and moist temporal gland in the headsides. During musth, these glands secrete the excess blood testosterone—the reproductive hormone that drives us, males. This hormone is also secreted with urine, which dribble constantly during the very active phase of musth in elephants. Such sexually active males also possess a strong breath to further advertise their status. These olfactory signals; dominant behaviours such as flapping of ears, to send the scents farther; and auditory signals (some of which are inaudible to us humans); all help in getting the message to the receptive females, and to warn the competition.

I suppose Uno was in either early or late stage of musth. There was no dribbling of urine as it does when madly in love. Uno wasn't aggressive towards the safari jeeps present, at least during our brief observational period. Nor did he appear to be bossy towards other elephants present at the gathering.

Here's a close up of Uno's temporal gland, which looks swollen, and darker. The latter because of those secretions.

The temporal glands need cleaning to regulate flow. This is because the secretions can clog the opening of the glands. In the wild, elephants rub these glands against various objects such as trees. Apart from helping to clear any blockages, such behaviours also help to leave sensory cues within their territories to reach wider audiences.

After that brief shower, it was time for some wallowing.

Mud sticks well on a wet skin, and acts as an agent of sunscreen, insect repellent, and skin conditioner for elephants.

A drink break followed next.

The wallowing stuck some mud to Uno's only tusk, boosting his dominant outlook or his coolness.
And more self mud-slinging went on—a common behaviour among most elephants these days, ahem.

After this, he opted for some snacks in the form of short grass.
First, he uprooted them by kicking the ground with his front legs. Then he rubbed them against one of the forelimbs to get rid of the dirt. He then tolled them into a neat pile before eating. Again, nothing unusual.

However, what followed next was pretty special.
It was a close observation of a tool-using behaviour in a wild Asian Elephant—when Uno used a stick to get a scratch like this.



Pretty smart, eh?
After a while, Gal had a private moment, with her back to Uno and us.
To that, Uno responded like this:

Plenty of eewws followed.
Uno was just checking her out. After all, the female urine contains hormonal cues of its receptivity.
And he seemed to like the cues.

Yeah, baby!

Well, nothing noteworthy followed.
May be she gave a flimsy excuse through her high frequency channels. 
May be they needed us get the hell out.
Hey! May be they needed some Barry White.
No, no—our elephants don't understand English!
May be a mellower Sinhala love song might have worked.

Have a rocking weekend all!


Dee said...

hahahah xD

Unknown said...

LOL - an extremely informative post yet very funny at the same time! Love the mud slinging reference.

magerat said...

Right place at right time! Great. Never knew about the tool usage before. Thank you for the lesson!

Amila Kanchana said...

Wow,mate,how do you know all these stuff?

"And more self mud-slinging went on—a common behaviour among most elephants these days, ahem." Ha ha ha ! :-)

Kirigalpoththa said...

What an observation. He is a smart dude isn't he? Next time you may see him lighting fires with two sticks :D

So you named 'Uno' cos one tusk? How did he lose his other tusk?

Thanks for the interesting trivia and photos.

flowergirl said...

Ha ha ha...SINBAD....I love that!

Could refer to a lot of human males too!

Amila Suwa said...

Gracias, Dee!

Hi Riyazi and Michelle,
Thanks! Glad you liked that reference. I haven't told a lie!

Hi Magerata,
That's it. It was great to witness those events unfold. Only one other jeep was there when those intimate moments happened. I think our patience paid off.

Thank you!

Hi Amila,
You mean like the Barry White song? :) Thanks!

Hi K,
Thanks! Yes, I named him Uno because of that. I have no idea how Uno's lost his other tusk.
Tuskers are known to be 'left handed', or 'right handed. So Uno may have lost it because of wear and tear.

Hi flowergirl,
Thanks! :P

Preveen said...

Pure awesomeness Amila. Really must go and see the gathering one of these years. With some patient ppl. :)

Amila Suwa said...

Aloha, Preveen,
Thank a lot!
The good months are yet to come, so you have a lot of time to plan a trip or three. :)

Good luck in finding patient people to join you! They are a dying breed, you know. :P

SKIZO said...

In your honour and in the honour of wall the Photographers, I published an ilustration.

santhoshi said...

Hahha Loved the post

Amila Suwa said...

Thanks Skizo!

Hi Santhoshi,
Pleased you loved it. :)

Natural Selection said...


Love the name Uno can I use it for the file also I like your blogs its funny, not boring and science based like the stuff I write...

Thanks for incorporating good info in such a fun style

Amila Suwa said...

Hi Manori,
Great to hear from you!
Thank you very much for for your lovely compliments!

I am very pleased you've adopted the name, Uno for the file of the one-tusked male.

That's so cool! :)

Phil Slade said...

A great story, expnation and information Amila. And of course SINBAD just made me laugh out loud, poor chap.

Amila Suwa said...

Thanks, Phil.
Glad you liked the SINBAD matter!

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