Elephant Body language : Decoding the secrets of the majestics

Elephant Body language

Elephants, the largest mammals on land, are not only renowned for their immense size and impressive tusks but also for their complex and fascinating social structures. One of the most intriguing aspects of their communication is their body language, a rich and nuanced form of expression that plays a crucial role in their daily lives. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the world of elephants and explore the meaning behind their gestures, postures and movements.

Apart from elephants being playful, loving, emotional, they are also massive and hence dominant. But not really dominant, but yes, quite egoistic. One of the deadliest elephants in the world are called bull elephants. In their musth, they’re very dangerous. They’d kill their keepers or caretakers, its own family members and even its own calves. So better stay away from it and read our article thoroughly to understand their body language better. We’ve referred to Wildlife SOS an esteemed organisation serving all of us extremely crucial information regarding wildlife for over 18 years now.

The Basics Of Elephant Body Language

Elephants are known for their intelligence and probably the most emotional wild animal. For instance, a herd of elephants would mourn all together if they’d lose any of their fellows. They’d also stop at the place where they’d lost their fellows and would mourn for them. This signifies their emotional gratitude and excellent memory at the same time. Elephants utilise a wide range of body language signals to convey their feelings and intentions. These signals can be broadly categorised into three main types: postural, vocal, and tactile communication.

Elephant Body language and Postural communication

Postural communication involves the way elephant’s position their bodies to convey specific messages. For example:


Elephants ears are amazingly expressive. Held out to the sides, they often indicate an aggressive or frustrated mood. They’ll try to make themselves look bigger in size as much as possible. You’d want to stay away from them in this case. They’ll also place their forelimbs on a log or a hump of sand, or anything, that’ll make them appear even taller and bigger in size.

In contrast, pinned back ears against the body may signify a calm and content state. It is amusing to know, in most cases, it would be observed that elephants are rather flapping their ears from a pinned back position to sideways. This is just their method to cool themselves down. There’s nothing to worry about in such a situation.


The movement of their tail and also the position of their tail can mostly be a more prominent sign of their emotional state and also defines its focus. Mostly, elephants are very much absorbed into themselves and their body and they’d focus on themselves only. Interesting fact, they can identify themselves in mirrors. This demonstrates a level of self-awareness that was once thought to be unique to humans and a few other highly intelligent animals.

This study has been published in the journal “Animal Cognition”. They’d sway their tails from left to right when they’re happy. They might also raise their tail to demonstrate their excitement. But a tucked tail is a sign that it has shifted its focus from itself now. Elephants would hear from very long distances. In such a position, they are either gazing at its target or are trying to analyze a potential threat.  In areas that are more prone to potential threats, they’d either keep their tails tucked or even raised up as it is alert.

Head and trunk:

The angle of an elephant’s head and the position of its trunk can convey a variety of emotions. A lowered head and relaxed trunk often signal contentment, while a raised head and curled trunk may indicate aggression. Flapping ears, accompanied by shaking their heads is a common way of elephants to demonstrate annoyance, frustration and even dominance and also joy. Shaking heads is probably the most common preface for an elephant attacking humans due to misinterpreting. It is best to stay away from an elephant that is shaking his head rigorously.


A distressed elephant would move forth and back might lift one of their feet and hold the position. In such a situation, an elephant is emotionally unstable and doesn’t know what to do next. As studied, probably all wild animals would attack as emotional instability rises. They’d also do this sometimes to display dominance where they’d just slam their feet in the ground and also sometimes to warn about a potential threat. They’d stand firmly with their ears wide, standing on a hump to make itself look bigger in size, heads high, raise the chin and a continuous stare right ahead of its tusk. It signifies that it is alert and ready for any attack.

Trunk (proboscis):

A trunk is basically a combination of their upper lip and nose, in which two nostrils pass though the full length of the trunk. The trunks are an array of muscles over 40000 of them, and can hold up to 8 litres of water. Their trunks are capable of torsion, bending, and elongation, shortening, and stiffening, all without the support of any bone.

The most interesting fact about elephants, as palaeontologists mention, is that trunks were not a part of an elephant’s body 40 million years ago, initially developed as a snorkel and then to trunk. Using these 40000 muscles they can perform very complex tasks using their trunks. Using their gigantic trunks, they can pluck even a grass leaflet. Apart from this they’d also express their emotions using their trunks. In times of distress, elephants would twist the tip of their trunk back and forth. They use their trunks to spray water and dust on themselves to cool them.

When an elephant lifts an object, its trunk bends gracefully from tip to base. When reaching for something directly in front, the trunk extends and retracts in a modular fashion. Move the target to the side, and the trunk creates virtual joints, briefly resembling an elbow and wrist with rigid segments in between. The elephant’s trunk is a dynamic masterpiece, showcasing nature’s ingenuity.

Elephant Body language and Vocal communication

While not as extensive as their body language, elephants also use vocalisations to communicate. These include trumpets, rumbles, and growls. Trumpeting is often associated with excitement or distress, while rumbles are used for long-distance communication within a herd. We have planned to make a separate series on the sounds of animals. Then we shall discuss this in more detail body language.

Elephant Body language and Tactile Communication

Elephants are known for their strong sense of touch. They use physical contact to reinforce social bonds and convey reassurance. For instance, gentle trunk touches and embraces are common displays of affection and solidarity among family members.

Conclusion to Elephant Body language

The body language of elephants is a complex and intricate system that reflects the depth of their social connections and emotional lives. Understanding these signals is essential for conservationists, researchers, and anyone fortunate enough to encounter these majestic creatures in the wild or in captivity. As we continue to unravel the mysteries of elephant communication, we gain valuable insights into the rich tapestry of their lives, fostering a deeper appreciation for these remarkable animals.

Where to Get the Animations Used In Elephant Body language ?

We made this series as a follow up to our efforts to create a library of animal rigs and animations for general use cases. We have compiled the basic actions of many common animals as animations, and you can make use of our rigs in case you need animated animals, just apply them onto your own models.

You can find all the animations used in the series and much more in the animal rig and animation asset pack on our website.

The Elephant rig includes the following animations:

  1. Angry or Threatening
  2. Balancing on Ball
  3. Drinking
  4. Grazing Ground
  5. Grazing Middle
  6. Grazing High Standing
  7. Mud Bathing
  8. Pacing
  9. Playing With Trunk
  10. Run Cycle
  11. Scratching Bark
  12. Sitting
  13. Swimming
  14. Trumpeting
  15. Walk Cycle
  16. Confused
  17. Flapping Ears
  18. Tail Sway
  19. Alert
  20. Foot Slamming

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