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Riddle of the Bones
Photograph by Michael Nichols

Curious about the legendary fascination of elephants with the bones of their fellow pachyderms, Nichols set a camera trap near the skeletal remains of a male forest elephant, which apparently died of natural causes. Sure enough, the camera—its shutter tripped whenever an object crossed the infrared beam—captured the arrival of a curious forest elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis). Succeeding images showed that the elephant pushed the bones around with its trunk before moving on.
 
Travelers' tales over the centuries have conjured up a belief that elephants collect and bury the bones of other elephants. Naturalists dismiss this as myth, having never witnessed such behavior. Yet many field researchers have reported, as Nichols's images document, that elephants indeed show great interest in the bones of other elephants, often sniffing them, rolling them over, and even picking them up with their trunks and rearranging them.

Photo Fast Facts

Camera: Nikon N90 (camera trap)
Film Type: Ektachrome 100
Lens: 28mm
Speed and F-Stop: 1/30 @ f/5.6
Weather Conditions: Sunny
Time of Day: Afternoon
Lighting Techniques: Three flashes mixed with available light
Special Equipment or Comments: The elephant was visiting the bones and broke an infrared beam to make the photo.


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