SOS Elephants or Focus on Charities & Their Sponsors / Partners Helping Elephants

What is a “Head Waggle”? Elephant Researcher Captures That Behavior on Film as Well as Other Elephant Behavior at Play!

As we look into the world of elephant behavior it is fascinating to observe these highly intelligent creatures, the way they communicate with each other and with humans, too! Dr. Joyce Poole of Elephant Voices takes us up-close with three different scenarios of elephants at play. In one instance Joyce explains that by doing a “head waggle” a feisty bull demonstrates, not an intent to harm, but an “invitation to play“. Silly elephant. Well, at least in this case.


Dr. Joyce Poole: “This is a large adult male named Stoney, um, and he is doing what we call ‘tusk ground‘ or ‘tusking the ground,’ um, it is… look at him, he is so silly, look how he is right down on the ground. Musth males do this, um, when they are threatening another male. It is kind of a way of saying ‘this is what I am going to do with you if I get hold of you’. Uh, because elephants even…well, they will, they will kill people that way as well.

Now he is just looking at me and he is now starting to shake his head and doing what I call a ‘head waggle‘. Now that is an invitation to play. So, I know by his behavior and how he was kicking his legs out earlier… There he goes again with his ‘head waggling’ and, uh, and kind of dancing for us. But I know by his very sort of floppy movements and even the way that he is looking… look at the way he is closing and opening his eyes… that he is … that he wants to play. This is not a serious threat in any way to me.”



“This is just a really cute video of two young elephants, two juveniles, um, doing what we call ‘play social rub‘. They are lying on the ground and just wiggling against each other. Elephants love to do this especially kind of in the, in the late afternoon when they have had a lot to eat and they are feeling good. Now, look at the female on the right is ‘tusking the ground,’ kicking her legs in the air. They are just so silly. I think… I think it probably just feels really good to squirm around on the ground and, and against other elephants.”



“But here we have got two, uh, two calves, um, playing, um, with other elephants in the background here and this is a very typical kind of, um, calf play, where one, the older one usually, lies down on the ground and allow, allows a younger one to climb on on top. And again they just love this touching of their bodies and and wiggling and squirming around.”

“This was, uh, filmed in the evening, it was about an eleven year old female and two infant calves that she was looking after, and she was so cute with them. She just lay down in this sort of dust wallow here and allowed them to clamber all over her (unintelligible) tripping and falling… a little male and a little female, the calves are… And, um, they stepped all over and she is so tolerant. She just, uh, obviously just loves, um, these two little babies.”

“Okay, (laughs) it is almost like he was tickled or something and then this calf just ends up stepping on her trunk and all of her face and, ah, (sighs) oh, they are very… they can be quite rough with each other but, um, I am sure it would knock us over but they are, they are pretty sturdy little babies. Look, watch this balancing act here where he, he tries to step on her, on her trunk but it is a little bit too wiggly. So, then he decides, ‘okay, he will just step right on her face instead.’ (laughs) She, she does not mind…



Video courtesy:    Video by Joyce Poole and Petter Granli”  Transcribed from CC “Elephant’s play behavior – video compilation narrated by Joyce Poole”



Please support ElephantVoices, a great elephant charity    Donate to ElephantVoices,  “…you will make a difference for elephants!” 

Images: from Creative Commons “Elephant’s play behavior – video compilation narrated by Joyce Poole


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *