More from Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity by Bruce Bagemihl. Elephants hardly need any introduction and since they weigh up to 7½ tons they definitely don’t need an introduction when you stand next to one. Sadly both the African Elephant and the Asiatic Elephant are endangered species. African Elephants live in Sub-Saharan parts of the continent; both sexes have tusks. Asiatic Elephants range from India through southeast Asia to China. They are slightly smaller in general, with smaller ears and tusks only on the male.
Elephants are matriarchal and have complex social lives. Females live in matriarchal herds, while bulls generally live alone or in smaller male-only herds. The sexes are mostly segregated and antagonistic towards each other. Females show solidarity towards one another and care for the group’s calves collectively. Unlike animals like the Manatee or the Walrus, female Elephants actively fight back against male abuse. Females charge and chase offending males, and they will intervene to forbid males from mating with juveniles of either sex.
African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)
Homosexuality: Female & Male Behaviours: Affectionate, Sexual, Pair-bonding Ranking: Moderate Observed: Wild
(See It’s Gay Animal Fortnight for an explanation of this box.)
Even the genitalia of male and female Elephants are somewhat incompatible because of the animals’ size and the placement of the female’s vaginal opening. A male’s penis has to assume a special S-shaped configuration in order to mate successfully with a female. A female Elephant’s clitoris is 44cm (17 inches) long when erect. So male Elephants don’t want to hear about you not sharing interests with your girlfriend or any petty nonsense like that, OK?
Another complication in this literal battle of the sexes is the male’s periodic sexual cycle, the musth. A male in musth becomes extremely aggressive, waves his ears and swings his head and trunk, issues rumbling infrasonic calls, urinates continuously and issues secretions from temporal glands on the head. Musth can last anything from a few days to several months. This is the only time that males have any significant interest in females. At the same time, African Elephants in season are sometimes driven to frequent particular musth bull areas where there are no females.
Among males, homosexual activity and mating is common. There are no enduring heterosexual relationships among Elephants, but males form long term companionships, which usually consist of an older bull and a young companion (sometimes two). Male pairs of Asiatic Elephants tend to stay together for shorter periods than their African relatives.
African Elephants in bull herds take part in erotic combat. Two males push against each other, locking tusks and intertwining their trunks. Apparently this is a turn on, because both will develop erections as they play. Sometimes they mount each other at the end of the battle.
Next time on Gay Animal Fortnight… Vampires want to suck your blood, among other things.
Original Elephant image from Wikipedia Commons.