Most people are either left-handed or right-handed. They are consistent in this laterality. Similarly, adult Asian elephants consistently use their trunks either preferring the left side or the right side.
- Fascinated by the question of when and how the laterality (of being left-handed or right-handed) develops in young elephants, a group of researchers from Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) studied free-ranging, individually identified Asian elephants from the Nagarhole and Bandipur National Parks and Tiger Reserves.
What does the research say?
- The researchers found that calves develop laterality in the way they use their trunks from three months onwards. They are more or less fixed in this laterality by the time they are a year old.
- This study, tracing out how this behaviour develops as the calf grows, is a first-of-its-kind study of free-ranging Asian elephants (Elephas maximus). The results have been published in The International Journal of Developmental Biology.
- Unlike humans, where right-handedness dominates, elephants do not show a bias in this behaviour at the population level: Asian elephants are equally likely to show left-handedness as they are to show right-handedness.
- The researchers found that trunk motor control develops postnatally over months although limb motor control and trunk side preference is achieved within a few hours of birth.
About Asian Elephants
- India is the natural home of the largest population of Asian elephants. It is also found in Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar.
- It usually resides in shrublands, artificial/terrestrial forests and grasslands.
- It is listed as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of threatened species. It is also listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
- The earliest indications of captive use of Asian elephants are engravings on seals of the Indus Valley Civilisation dated to the 3rd millennium BC.