This Is How Baby Elephants Drink Water (Until They Know Better)

A baby elephant tries to drink water at Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe. Karen Stewart/Shutterstock

Elephants are intelligent and graceful animals, but much like humans, they need some time to outgrow the awkwardness of youth.

Although it only takes newborn elephants a few hours to master standing and walking — vital skills for nursing — they need much more time to figure out how to use their trunks. The long appendages on their faces are valuable multipurpose tools, but without an instruction manual, it can be almost a year before baby elephants really understand how to use them.

In the photo above, taken at Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, an elephant calf is clumsily bending down to drink water directly with its mouth. Elephants normally use their trunks to siphon up water and squirt it into their mouths, which helps them avoid such a vulnerable position. This baby can't do that yet, however, so it's just hydrating the only way it knows how.

"When an elephant is born, it is not able to control the use of its trunk and it will flop around as they try different techniques to control it," according to the KOTA Foundation, a nonprofit focused on raising awareness about African elephants.

In this video from South Africa's Kruger National Park, for example, a baby elephant is apparently trying to drink water like the adults do. After valiantly trying to use its trunk, however, it eventually gives up and adopts the technique pictured above:

Elephants usually figure out the trunk-drinking method by the time they're 1 year old. Once they reach adulthood, their trunks can siphon up to 10 gallons of water per minute and hold as much as two gallons at a time.