JAKARTA, NNC - An elephant in India seems to have picked up a smoking habit. The elephant is seen taking something using its trunk, inserting that something it picked up into his mouth, and then blowing smoke from inside its mouth. Is this elephant really smoking?
As quoted from Live Science, conservation scientists saw the elephant lifting pieces of wood into its mouth, and then blowing out dust or ash that looks like smoke.
"I believe the elephant may have tried to absorb wood charcoal, and it seems to take pieces from the forest floor, blow the dust or ash and eat the rest," said Varun Goswami, a scientist with India's Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) program and an elephant biologist.
Goswami and his team found what they call a "smoke-breathing elephant" in Nagarahole National Park while checking their hidden or trap cameras as part of a study on tigers and other wild animals.
During their journey in the forest, they saw elephants standing in a burnt jungle from the forest. "In India, the Ministry of Forestry is burning fire lines that can help control forest fires," Vinay Kumar, assistant director of WCS-India, said to Live Science. "And this effort leaves wood charcoal on forest land."
Eating charcoal-made mostly of carbon and formed from heated wood in low oxygen conditions-is unheard of. The colobus monkeys apparently consume such charcoal, presumably to nullify toxins in some of the foods they eat.
Scientists reported in 1997 in the International Journal of Primatology that Zanzibar red colobus monkeys may be the only primates (not including humans) who deliberately chew the charcoal.
Eating charcoal allows monkeys to consume Indian almonds and mangoes, consisting of phenols, a group of chemical compounds that seem to be toxic and even disrupt the digestive system of monkeys. The charcoal, according to scientists, binds phenol while leaving the protein in exotic tree foods alone.
Perhaps, this elephant captures the benefits of small charcoal.
"Charcoal has a toxic binding properties that can provide medicinal value," Goswami said, adding that charcoal can also act as a laxative.