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Planet Earth

South African wildlife - Wait, that's not a trunk...

Not Exactly Rocket ScienceBy Ed YongNovember 7, 2009 1:00 PM
Elephant-penis
Elephant-penis

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This is a bull elephant firmly establishing why it is he, and not the lion, who is king of beasts. The elephant's penis is not only massive but prehensile. As we watched in baffled amusement (and the faintest tinge of inadequacy), he used his penis to prop himself up (as in the photo), swat flies from his side and scratch himself on his stomach. David Attenborough never showed us that...

There's good reason for elephants to have prehensile penises. It's hard enough for a six-tonne animal to get into the right position for sex, let alone having to do the rhythmic thrusting that's required. So he let's his penis do all the work for him.

You'll also note the dark stain behind his eye - that's a leak from his temporal gland. It means that this male was entering musth, the period when their testosterone shoots through the roof and they get incredibly horny and aggressive. We tried to drive round this male and he basically charged us. Tramply doom was averted by our driver who slammed his palm against the car door as hard as he could. The elephant stopped and huffed and puffed. We did our best to not soil ourselves.

Elephant-portrait

This picture gives you an idea of how close he was. After a seemingly infinite standstill, he moved aside, extended his enormous penis and had a wee. It's amazing how terror can convert into comedy so quickly...

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