Human children are regularly told by their parents not to smoke, but no such warnings are ever given to elephants. Most of the time, this doesn't cause any problems, since elephants don't have access to cigarettes large enough to cause any serious damage. One Indian elephant, however, seems to have sidestepped this small dilemma somehow.
The misbehaving pachyderm was recorded deep in the forests of Karnataka by Vinay Kumar, Assistant Director of Conservation Support and Policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society in India. He was scouting the area to observe and collect data on tigers and their prey, when he saw something much more unusual back in April 2016. The Wildlife Conservation Society finally posted the video on March 20th, 2018, and it already has over 13k views.
@NatGeo Oh it’s nothing. He’s just blowing smoke— Tyler Seuc (@Tyler Seuc)1521763710.0
Kumar retrieved the footage from his hidden cameras in India's Nagarahole National Park.
According to the scientist, this elephant is female and between 30 and 35 years old. And also, to be completely accurate, the elephant isn't "smoking" so much as picking an ash-like substance off the ground and blowing it into herself. Similar to smoking, but not quite (perhaps this is the Elephant equivalent of vaping).
@NatGeo The last thing we need when escaping to nature is elephants showing off their vape skills. We get it, you vape!— Pliskin (@Pliskin)1521816726.0
Varun Goswami, another researcher who works for the Wildlife Conservation Society, commented on what he suspects the elephant was doing:
I believe the elephant may have been trying to ingest wood charcoal. She appeared to be picking up pieces from the forest floor, blowing away the ash that came along with it, and consuming the rest.
@NatGeo Fascinating, we have so much to learn about animals.— Alisar (@Alisar)1521768245.0
But why would an elephant eat wood charcoal?
Besides it being delicious? Well, the Conservation Society explains that charcoal has toxin-binding abilities which make the elephant healthier. Also, it functions as a useful laxative, something that shouldn't be undervalued when all you eat is grasses, tree bark, and roots.
This isn't the first time a "smoking elephant" has been seen, but perhaps the first time it's been caught on video.
Animals will often travel towards the sites of recent forrest fires or controlled burns to ingest some medicinal charcoal, but, as far as Kumar is aware, this is the first time such an occurrence has been caught on camera.
The video first appeared in a Facebook post from the WCS:
It looks like smoking is a lot less unhealthy in the animal world than it is in the human one. With that mystery solved, we can cancel plans for the elephant D.A.R.E. program and let the good men and women of the Wildlife Conservation Society continue their fine work!