Elephants can swim. I had heard and read about that. The sea faring elephants of the Andamans and Sri Lanka are very well known. Legends like the elephant named Rajan, of the Andamans, was featured in a Hollywood movie too. However, I had not been lucky enough to see one actually swim, until this March, in Kaziranga, when I was a first hand witness to that.
We were on our afternoon safari. As we entered the park, we saw this elephant coming down towards the water. Seemed like a young male, without the well grown tusks, generally referred to as a Makhna. It was quite warm and we thought he was coming down for a drink. He squeezed himself through the narrow path leading to the water and stepped in. It was beautiful light and we were getting ready to make some images of him drinking, splashing around, basically having some good time in the water. But, he had other ideas.
He started slowing wading along the water body. It was not a small pond but a big lake. We were wondering as to what he was up to.
He then turned around and started moving towards the deeper side. We could already see how deep it was as more than half the body of this big animal was inside the water.
After a short amble in the water, the elephant disappeared. Only the upper part of his head was visible like a stone on the water’s surface. I was just stunned. That’s when it struck me that this guy was probably going to swim across.
Slowly, some part of his body started to show and his trunk stuck out. He started moving across at good pace.
The trunk was like a snorkel, sticking out of the water, taking in the air to help him breathe. He was spurting out water through his trunk every now and then like a fountain.
Elephant swimming across brought in a lot of enthusiasm among some of the water birds. I have read that elephants use all of their four legs to paddle, splaying the soles of their feet to help propel themselves in the water. This paddling underwater was probably disturbing a lot of the fish around and the Darters sensed the opportunity.
They started following the swimming pachyderm, in the hope of a quick meal.
Some of them got lucky too. Here’s a darter that made a catch.
The snorkeling continued. Every now and then he would surface and throw out a jet of water.
At times, only the trunk of the elephant was visible outside the water’s surface. It was so amazing to see such a huge mammal swim across completely submerged.
Finally, after a few minutes of continuous and am sure, an exhausting swim, he reached the other bank. It looked like his foot started touching the lake bed.
A final jet out of the water and he had crossed.
Stepping onto land after a successful marine endeavour.
It seems that this guy does this, crossing of the lake, everyday. One side of the lake is the forest area and the other side is the buffer, where there are tamed elephants. Our guide was mentioning that this guy has found a female ( a tamed elephant ) companion on the other side and hence swims across each day to meet up with her. Now, that is something! Swimming across for love :-)
From the image capture details, it looks like he took around 5 minutes to swim across the lake. It is quite a big lake and this timing looks very impressive. Am sure, he will give the long distance swimmers a run for their money. Am not sure if they can compete with him in the first place as elephants are known to swim over long distances, taking rest when tired, in the water itself, by just floating with their trunks above the water’s surface.
So, while reading up on how elephants actually swim, came across this online,
Elephants are excellent swimmers like all other mammals. The only mammals that have to learn to swim are humans and the primates. The pachyderm’s massive body, very surprisingly, gives them enough buoyancy to float easily. They swim completely submerged, with their head above the water and their mouths below, and use all four legs to paddle. The biggest advantage that elephants have above all other mammals is their trunk. A very versatile proboscis, they use their trunk like a snorkel. This enables them to breathe normally when swimming and allows them to swim long distances.
Elephants do not tire easily when swimming, but if they do, they will just rest in the water for some time. Because of their buoyancy they do not drown. Elephants in Africa have been recorded to have travelled a distance of 48 kilometers across water, as also swimming for six hours continuously. Src: Wild Animal Park
All of this was so accurate and I was very happy to have been able to observe the behaviour so very clearly. I was overjoyed at having witnessed this wonderful natural history moment and have tried to relive and share it through this post. Hope you enjoyed reading it too.