Mud and… Elephants, Apparently


File:Baby elephant mud bathing chobe.jpg
A baby elephant having a good time in the mud. Credit: Wikimedia.

The other day I came across an article about a herd of elephants stuck in a mud hole in Cambodia. They were all rescued, thankfully. I didn’t save the article, though, and when I went to search for it again, I discovered something: there are a lot of news stories about elephants getting stuck in the mud. There’s the one from a few days ago, which I originally saw, this one about a baby elephant in Zimbabwe from last year, and a lot more, as a quick google search will reveal.

This is common because of their behavior. Elephants will often “bathe” in mud or dirt, and this helps them to cool off. They can’t sweat, so the evaporative cooling of the mud has the same function, allowing the heat from their bodies to be dissipated. It also helps them protect against sunburns.

Well anyway, what exactly is causing the elephants to get stuck? First, mud is a combination of silt, clay, and water. As anyone who’s touched mud can attest to, mud is highly cohesive and adhesive (it sticks to itself and other things), due to the bonds both clays and water make. So, attempting to move through a viscous mud hole is already going to be a taxing ordeal. Furthermore, it’s easy for mud to dry and become even stickier. Often, these elephants are found trapped because the mud has become dry and tacky around them.