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Why Animals Do The Thing


Rachel Garner

I was so excited to see this going around tumblr because this is one of my favorite ‘the-more-you-know’ moments. If you can’t read the original caption on the photo it says:

“A she-elephant has been snapped by a wildlife photographer exposing her breasts while out for a walk with her adorable baby and the rest of the herd. The pictures were taken by Renata Ewald in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. “I spend a lot of time in Kruger, and I’ve never seen anything like this before,’ she said.”

Apparently she’s never seen a nursing elephant before! This is 100% normal. Okay, she’s a normal person. I guess you can’t expect her to have seen that before or realize that elephants have huge mammary glands while lactating. 

What’s even better, though, is that apparently this isn’t even necessarily common knowledge amount wildlife researchers until they get out there and see it for their own eyes. 

“So imagine my surprise when I looked at a female elephant and realized that they have fabulous tits!  Elephant tits are in the same place (on the chest, in between the forelegs).  They even have cleavage between their very human shaped breasts.  That said, you need to make a few allowances.  Every part of an elephant is covered with wrinkled gray skin, including their tits, so they aren’t going to have the same smooth supple skin tone you’d see in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.   Nevertheless they are the most human-like mammary glands you’ll find anywhere in the animal kingdom, other than humans of course.”

This quote is from a  fantastic and somewhat NSFW post by a more current bush researcher entitled“Elephants Have Fantastic Tits” and it’s really worth a read. It contains lots of information on why animals in the savannah have the reproductive equipment they do, why elephants breasts looks so similar to human breasts, and, of course, really cool photos of elephant nipples. There’s also some gratuitous ostrich penis, FYI. 

Even better, though, it turns out they’ve being doing this to new researchers for ages. Just sending them out onto the savannah without an inkling of the human-like boobs these poor, company-deprived saps are going to run into on the local color. One of my recent good reads was ‘A Primate’s Memoir’ by Robert M. Sapolsky, which documents his two decades of research on baboons in Kenya. In it is this gem about some of his earliest days on the Savannah:

“I was quite familiar with the phenomenon of of most Peace Corps volunteers sinking into a depression somewhere around the tenth month of their first year (…) when the loneliness and alienness began to feel intolerable. I was prepared for that. Little did I know that I would think that I was cracking up from the isolation in the very first month. 

The trouble was elephants. Did you know that female elephants have breasts? By this, I do not mean rows of teats, a mama elephant lying on her side with dozens of little piglet elephants nursing with their eyes still closed. I mean breasts, two huge voluptuous billowy mounds, complete with cleavage. I bet you had no idea, did you? Nor did I - it is a subject rarely broached in our public schools. 

I’m out in the bush that first month, armed with binoculars and stopwatch and notepad, spending the days carefully watching baboons mating left and right. And then, suddenly, some pachyderms come cruising past, and I see some elephants with these, well, breasts. And the natural first reaction is to think Oh, great, I’m such a horny lascivious pathetic adolescent that after a mere month of isolation in the bush I’ve already cracked, I’m hallucinating breasts the size of Volkswagens on the elephants. Horrors, to have one’s psychotic break occur so soon, and to have it take the form of a puerile sexual obsession many embarrassing steps below gawking at National Geographic nudies. I was greatly relieved to eventually discover that the elephant’s breasts were real, that I was not having some Marlin Perkins wet dream.”

Part of me kind of hopes that they specifically don’t tell new researchers in the bush that elephants have human-like breasts, simply to see their amazed faces as a rite of passage. Because, really, that joke is not something you’re going to forget to play on your own protege.