African elephants are amazing animals. Their feet and foot pads are designed to support their massive weight in a unique way. Even the cracks in their foot pads serve as identifying marks, similar to a human fingerprint. So one can track an elephant just as easily as one identifies tire tracks in the mud.
The stance of the African elephant, having longer legs in front, helps them to carry their formidable heads and tusks. And did you know that African elephants have larger and rounder feet in front (serving the same purpose), with five toenails, while their back feet are smaller and more oval in shape (with only four toenails)? And what’s this about African elephants walking on their tippy toes? Is that why they can be so stealth in the wild?
Watch and learn from Elephant Manager, Tigere and Senior Elephant Carer, Owen at HERD Elephant Orphanage in South Africa as they give us an up-close and personal look at an African elephant’s Big Feet; bull elephant Jabulani is showcased (bull elephant Sebakwe is mentioned, too). Oh, and notice how the elephant is kept happy with a bucket full of elephant treats!
Owen with elephant Jabulani: “Um, the foot of the elephant. Um, I am going to point up some of the, um, the, uh, features on the elephant foot so that you can easily see how each, uh, elephant looks like. And then uh, on this side, uh, the way I am going to, I am touching this side, this is an elbow of the elephant. And then way down here, this is the, um, this is the, uh, the wrist. And then I am going to go down here, we are going to point up the toes of the elephant.”
Tigere with bull elephant Sebakwe: “Alright so here we are looking at elephant foot structure, alright? As you can see that the front foot is more securer, it is more rounded as we compare to the back foot which is more, um, oval, okay. So, actually, the hind foot has got four toenails, whereas the front foot has got five toenails, alright.
So you can start from here, then you have got one (toenail) here, and then there is number two (toenail), um, and also number three (toenail) right here. Steady, boy! it (elephant moves his foot) It is a good (unintelligible)… (commands to elephant) Okay, so your number three nail is standing right in the middle here, that is number three, number four. And there is the smaller one right here, it starts your number five, alright.
So there is five in front and four at the back. So what is happening at the moment, elephant known as walking on front foot, okay. But also right inside they are walking on tipped toes, alright. They are standing on tipped toes.
So, behind the toes and the sole of the foot they have a massive cartilage of muscle known as the pad. So that pad is actually carrying the weight of the elephant, protecting the bone from shattering, okay.
So, that is why when they are walking they are always keeping three feet on the ground. They lift one foot at any given time. So that four feet… three feet can actually manage to carry the weight of an elephant whenever they maneuver one foot, okay.
So it is very, very interesting. I am going to show you underneath, the underneath part of the foot structure is… it is very interesting that elephant footprint is very much like to… our fingerprints, okay. Each foot has got its own print, okay.
So, for us, some of us here, we have been with these guys (elephants) for very long time. We can simply identify these guys (elephants) from their footprints. Then we know who is… who walked here, who is this and stuff. That is if, if you are willing to learn a lot from them. You can, you can actually simply identify them as one, alright.
So, in Africa we have two animals that have, uh, okay… In Africa we have two animals that have same foot posture. We are talking about an elephant and then your mountain hyraxes (rock hyrax) or the dassie.”
Owen with elephant Jabulani: “And then also, uh, if you look at the front foot itself, it is more rounds compared to the back foot where we are going to go also to show you the difference from the front foot and the back foot. So, it is more round compared to the, uh, compared to the back foot. Uh, the reason this foot to be more round in front, they support… they have got a lot of weight, um, in the front.
This cow tusks (unintelligible) and the trunk also is more heavy from in the front, in size. That is why the front foot is too… is more round than the back foot. And also, uh, when elephant is stepping in the ground the foot (unintelligible) mostly… it expands and when they lift it up it contracts. So they could… like a, uh, like a, uh, shock absorbers for the vehicles mostly.
When you look at elephant when he is standing like this, it looks like it is standing flat footed but it is not. So it is standing like on tip toes. (Unintelligible) toes that, um, come straight like here, then on here, then on here, right direct where the toes (unintelligible)… So that is the reason elephant, why they cannot make noise if they are walking.
So they are like walking tip toes then, um, they provided this pad system so that you cannot suffer from the weight to avoid from shattering of the, of the, of the of the bones.
So now, we are going to walk, um, back far from, um, the elephant so that I can show you the back foot, um, compared to the front foot. So I am going to walk around on this side. So, um, this is the, uh, the back foot, this is the back foot of the elephant, so, if you look, front foot is more longer and then the back foot is more shorter which is, uh… This is the knee, and then this is the ankle and then so also I am going to point up the toes from the, uh, from the back foot.
So, I am going to start from here. This is the first toe, it is very small. This is the first toe here. I think you can, you can it, yes, here. And then the second toe, this is the second toe, and then this is the third toe here, right there in the front. And also I am going to try to go around this side and show you the fourth toe which is here. This is the fourth toe.
So, in the front they do have four, five toes in the front and then four toes at the back. So, the back, the back foot is more oval compared to the front foot. You can see which of, uh, of, of the back is more like oval than more rounds (sic) because there is no… a lot of support of the weight from from the back.
So there is the end… there is the elbow here, similar like the human being, you can see there is the ankle and also to go up there is the, is the knee. (Wide shot of the profile of the elephant with both men standing nearby, one has treats in a bag!)
So look, this is uh, this is the bottom of the foot of the elephant. If you look there is all of these cracks. So these cracks must be… they are very, very important also on elephants, just like your your shoes, or if you are walking or maybe it is slippery where we are walking there, from the mud, so all of this (points to foot pad) it give him the balance, uh from, for the elephant when he when he is stepping (on) the ground or if in a (unintelligible) or it is walking in a rock area to get himself the balance.
Sometimes, yes, you can find, uh, elephant, he can step on the rock and then that (small) rock can penetrate on (foot pad)… in this rock… in this, uh, cracks that you can see around here. Um, for himself it is easy somewhat to check it out. You can, uh, find either a (large) rock that he can trust (that elephant is familiar with) and try to wrap against that that rock until he end up get out that, uh, rock penetrated underneath.
Some of the times it does take them (rocks) out but some mostly they just stick it inside (the pad of their elephant foot). They are not afford (unintelligible) to take it.
Well, so, for this elephant that is mostly… (gives command to elephant) we can help them (elephants at an elephant sanctuary such as HERD Elephant Orphanage in South Africa where this elephant lives) because we can talk to them. When you see them you step on the (unintelligible) toes and ask him that you have got a pliers or give you an effort to to pull it out with your hand. We can assist you.
So, yeah, so this is the padding system that we talk about. To touch it like this it is very hard but you can see somewhere the movement of…uh, it is like a fresh… like a yeah, like a sponge somewhat… Okay, there we go, very heavy…(patting pad of large elephant foot)” Source (1)
DONATE TO HERD (Hoedspruit Elephant Rehabilitation and Development) Elephant Orphanage, South Africa (2)
Images & transcribed from: cc video “The Elephant’s Big Feet – A lesson with bulls, Sebakwe and Jabulani” by HERD Elephant Orphanage South Africa (1)
(1) “The Elephant’s Big Feet – A lesson with bulls, Sebakwe and Jabulani” by HERD Elephant Orphanage South Africa https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3dNqR5ww5E
(3) HERD (Hoedspruit Elephant Rehabilitation and Development) Elephant Orphanage, South Africa https://herd.org.za
Elephant Spoken Here Facebook
Elephant Spoken Here twitter @ESHelephants