August 31

Just So Stories: How The Elephant Got His Trunk


August 31, 2017

How did the giraffe get his long neck? And the porcupine her 30,000 black and white painted quills? Or the pangolin his scaly, unusual body? Africa is full of strange and quirky creatures, and for those of you with an imagination, there’s a weird and wonderful story for each of our beautifully-bizarre animals.

In the words of the man who wrote the Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling, this is his story of how the elephant got his trunk (with slight modifications for an easier read):

A close-up of an Elephant

Legend has it that the elephant never used to have a trunk. Instead he had a blackish, bulgy nose, as big as a boot, that he could wriggle about from side to side. He couldn’t pick up anything with his useless nose.

Large elephant walking away

But one day, there was a new elephant. An elephant’s child was born. He was different in the way that he was full of insatiable curiosity.

Mother and baby elephant
Photo credit: Hailey Bowden

He wondered why the ostrich’s tail feathers were just so, and the giraffe, why he had spotty skin.

ostrich flapping its wingsBeautiful giraffe with distinct markings walking

Next he asked the hippopotamus why her eyes were red. And so the elephant’s child continued to worry all the animals with countless questions.

Hippo peaking out of the water

He asked questions about everything that he saw, or heard, or felt, or smelt, or touched. The most frustrating unknown for this elephant child was the mysterious question: what does the crocodile have for dinner?

Crocodile walking into water

He finally stumbled across a Kolokolo bird who said with a mournful cry, “Go to the banks of the great grey-green greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees, and find out.”

Scarlet Ibises in flight
Photo credit: Magnus Manske

And so the elephant’s child set off, taking with him a hundred pounds of bananas (the little short red kind), and a hundred pounds of sugar-cane (the long purple kind), and seven melons (the green-crackly kind). As he went, eating melons, he threw the rind about with his useless nose.

Beautiful elephant and their tusks

Finally he made it to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about the fever trees, precisely as Kolokolo bird had said.

Limpopo River
Photo credit: Derek Keats

Bear in mind that till that very week, and day, and hour, and minute, the elephant’s child had never seen a crocodile. And finally he asked an unknown creature (the crocodile himself) the question which he hoped to finally relieve himself of, “What does the crocodile have for dinner?”

Crocodile crawling through the reeds

The crocodile winked one eye as the elephant’s child came closer. He put his head down close to the crocodile’s musky, tusky mouth and the crocodile caught him by his little nose and said between his teeth “I think today I will begin with an elephant’s child”.

Crocodile creeping up in green water

The elephant sat back on his haunches and pulled, and pulled, and pulled against the crocodile’s tug. His nose began to stretch and stretch. The crocodile threshed his tail like an oar, and he pulled, and pulled, and pulled, and at each pull the elephant’s child’s nose grew longer, and longer, and it hurt!

how the elephant got its trunk
Illustrated by Rudyard Kipling

Eventually the crocodile let go of the elephant’s nose with a plop that you could hear all up and down the Limpopo River.

Elephant playing in the water
Photo credit: Danny Goirdano

The elephant’s child waited three days for his trunk to shrink, but it never grew any shorter, and, besides, it made him squint.

A small elephant calf

At the end of the third day a fly stung him on his shoulder, and before he knew it he lifted up his trunk and hit that fly dead. Vantage one.

Elephant lifting trunk to the sunsetHe plucked large bundles of grass and stuffed them into his mouth. Vantage two.

Elephant eating

Closeup of an elephant eating

He then schlooped up a schloop of mud from the banks and slapped it on his head, where it made a cool schloopy-sloshy mud-cap all trickly behind his ears. Vantage three.

Elephant cooling down with water

elephants drinking at Thanda Luxury Safari Lodge

And so with the many vantages provided by this extended trunk- elephants never missed their old blackish, bulgy noses, as big as a boot, that they could wriggle about from side to side.

Large elephant walking on road


Do you know how the rhino got his folded, wrinkly and rough skin? We do!

Some more articles and photos for all those elephant-lovers out there:

20 Photographs Of Ellies, Elies and More Ellies

An Unlikely Encounter Between Two Rhinos and an Elephant

World Elephant Day with Photographer Marina Cano

The Life & Times of Lawrence Anthony, Elephant Whisperer

Watch Elephants Trample A GoPro




Africa, Wildlife

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About the author 

Jemma Brewitt

Jemma's love for nature and culture grew while growing up on her family's dairy farm in the Natal Midlands. Since then she has been a ski lift operator in the Sierra Nevada, an Au Pair in London, an English teacher in Vietnam and is now writing about her favourite continent - Africa.

  • What a beautiful story, thank for the wonderful pictures as well, they captured my heart.

    The elephant is my favourite animal, so was moved by this. Thank you.

  • I remember this story from when I was little, growing up in Denmark, and I’ve always loved it. I’m so happy I stumbled across your page! I just read it to my three children and it made my heart full ❤️ Thank you

  • Amazing stories!! Read them to my school kids and they were captivated the whole time!! Thank you for sharing these stories and pictures!! Incredible!

  • What a wonderful story I could read To my far away grandchildren via WhatsApp chat and the iPad! Please can we have more? Great entertainment durning sel isolation! Dee

  • Beautifully told, Jemma, in word and picture!
    Another great collection of creation stories is Tales of the Early World by Ted Hughes.
    Don’t know if you know it. And talking of elephants – one of my favourite stories is The Trunk.

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