The “smoking” elephant video, which has since gone viral, was shot by a Wildlife Conservation Society (India) scientist when he and his team were visiting the forest for a project on long term monitoring of tiger and prey populations.
The 48-second clip shows the elephant picking up something from the forest floor, ingesting it and puffing out smoke. The animal, it turned out, was blowing off ash before apparently eating wood charcoal in the recently burnt patch of forest, giving the impression that it was smoking.
“It’s the first-ever visual documentation of such behaviour by an elephant,” said Vinay Kumar, assistant director at WCS, who shot the video. Kumar told TOI that the video was shot in the morning nearly two years ago. “We found the female elephant at the edge of the forest… I just forget about it for a while,” he added.
Why an elephant would consume charcoal, which has no food value, has led to speculation among wildlife scientists. According to Varun R Goswami, an elephant biologist at WCS India, charcoal has well recognised toxin-binding properties, and although it may not have much nutritional content, animals may be attracted to it for this medicinal value.
It can also serve as a laxative, thereby doubling its utility for animals that consume it after forest fires, lightning strikes, or controlled burns, Goswami said.
“Charcoal ash has traditionally been used for dental hygiene in India. After the video went around, there was also some speculation that the elephant was trying to cure a toothache,” Kumar said.
Kumar said the sight of the jumbo puffing away had startled him and his team.
(With inputs from Bengaluru)
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