Footage has surfaced of an elephant appearing to smoke something in the woods and scientists are trying to figure out why. The video, which can be seen below, was taken at Karnataka state’s Nagahrole National Park in south east India where researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) study tigers and other threatened species like Asian elephants and Indian bison. They captured the female elephant using her trunk to pick up and place lumps of charcoal in her mouth. She then exhales the smoke and proceeds to do the same thing again with another piece of coal.
Experts believe that the elephant wasn’t actually smoking, but instead trying to ingest the wood and exhale the ash. Apparently the mammals eat it for its toxin-binding properties and medicinal benefits. Charred lumps of wood can actually act as a laxative and alleviate gas and bloating. The elephants consume it following lightning strikes, forest fires and controlled burns. Charcoal can also be used to whiten teen, filter water and cleanse mold. Doctors will even give it to patients suffering from various forms of poisoning, most frequently during drug and alcohol overdoses.
In regard to the smoking elephant, scientists say this type of behavior has never been seen before, let alone filmed. The footage was actually taken in 2016 but is just now being made public as a result of the realization that it’s more important than initially believed. While the smoking aspect is rare, it's not uncommon for animals to self-medicate. Zoopharmacognosy is a behavior in which non-human animals apparently self-medicate by selecting and ingesting or topically applying plants, soils, insects, and psychoactive drugs to prevent or reduce the harmful effects of pathogens and toxins.