A video of a wild elephant that appears to be 'smoking' in the Nagarhole National Park in Karnataka is baffling the scientific community. The short clip put out by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) shows an elephant letting out a puff of smoke.
The rare video was shot by Vinay Kumar, Assistant Director at Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), an organisation that works for the protection of wildlife.
On the day that the video was shot, Vinay was out in the forests with his colleague Srikanth and other staff members on field work. They were checking in on camera-traps pthat had been installed in the park for monitoring the tiger and prey populations in the area.
Recalling his experience in a blog, Vinay Kumar described in detail what they witnessed that day.
"Srikanth, my colleague greeted me and over tea we planned for the day’s 70-90 km drive – the plan was to visit and check 20-23 camera-trap locations in Nagarahole National Park, Karnataka, as part of a long-term project of studying tiger and prey populations. At each camera-trap location, we had deployed a pair of cameras facing each other on either side of a forest road or trail, mounted inside a protective iron shell and triggered automatically by the motion of passing wildlife, including the elusive tiger! I was excited at the thought of what the camera traps might have in store for us from the night before," he wrote.
After breakfast, the team began their drive through Nagarhole, keeping an eye out for any wildlife movement.
They had reached a partially burnt patch of the moist deciduous forests when they saw a female elephant.
"This was not an unusual sighting, but what we saw her doing was something that I had never witnessed before, and it has probably not been commonly captured on film earlier either. As cameras clicked, I switched on to the video mode and filmed what would be an amazing sight to behold, and a behaviour that has had experts trying to decipher the exact nature of the action," he wrote.
"What we saw that day almost appeared as though the elephant was smoking – she would draw up a trunk full of ash close to her mouth and blow it out in a puff of smoke!," he narrated.
When Vinay consulted Dr Varun R Goswami, a colleague and elephant biologist, the former told him that it was likely that the elephant was trying to eat wood charcoal.
Wild animals may get attracted to charcoal for its medicinal value, explained Vinay.
The assistant director wrote, "That made sense as the elephant appeared to be picking up something from the burnt forest floor, blowing away the ash that came along with it in her trunk, and consuming the rest. Charcoal has well-recognised toxin-binding properties, and although it may not have much nutritional content, wild animals may be attracted to it for this medicinal value. Charcoal can also serve as a laxative, thereby doubling its utility for animals that consume it after forest fires, lightning strikes, or controlled burns of the type we saw in Nagarahole that day."