Everyone performs unconscious behaviors when they’re feeling uncomfortable or unsure. Some people will yawn; others will scratch their head or cover their face. Some do all three at once in really awkward moments. As it turns out, baby elephant calves also may have behaviors that signal insecurity or uncertainty.
In a video captured recently at the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, a young elephant calf was found swinging its trunk in what could be described as a “helicopter” motion.
The baby elephant, nicknamed Happy, was trying to reach the wallow for a drink and a swim with his family. Happy couldn’t reach the water from the side of the wallow he was standing on. At that point, Happy’s trunk began to swing around like a helicopter blade.
We asked elephant behavior expert and National Geographic explorer Joyce Poole to weigh in on the video. Via email she said, “[This common behavior] is most often observed among those still learning to control/use their trunks.”
And while Poole warns against reading too much into the clip, she said, “at his age, it could have been a kind of displacement behavior—wanting to get into the wallow, but not quite sure about the social dynamics. Elephants will engage in a variety of trunk-twisting and foot-swinging behaviors when they are unsure of their next move.” (Learn more about decoding elephant behaviors.)
So, while we can’t say for sure that this baby elephant was feeling awkward, we can still enjoy learning more about this playful pachyderm.