Born in the Wild: A Full and Frank Look at the Sex Lives of Elephants!

Channel 4 has never been afraid to go where no channel has gone before, and has broadcast its fair share of controversial programs, even pushing our expectations of what should, and should not be shown before the 9pm watershed.  With the immensely popular medical show Embarrassing Bodies now regularly shown at 8pm, the opportunity to both laugh and learn about the human anatomy is fast becoming a cultural norm.  Having won the battle to show breasts and penises, (provided there’s a genuine medicinal reason of course) they now turn their attention to the sexual activities of the animal kingdom, with vet and Bigfoot Files presenter, Mark Evans; who, during this week’s show, found himself in the somewhat bizarre position of giving a snoozing male elephant a hand job – all in the name of science of course!

Whilst Mark cautiously tracked the male bull elephants infectiously enthusiastic anatomist Joy Heindenberg introduced us to a family of semi-wild females, including heavily pregnant mum Kiti.  Here, we were also treated to a lesson in elephant anatomy, with Joy almost gleefully explaining that due to the complicated positioning of a female elephant’s organs, the bull‘s have their work cut out.  “He’s gotta have a massive penis, and it has to be positioned properly to get through this obstacle course.”  At this point, we cut back to Mark who without a trace of humour informs us, “I’m on a mission to unravel the mysteries of the elephant’s penis.

We learn that the gaming reserves in South Africa often have problems maintaining their elephant population, which can become too large.  In the past the reserve attempted to deal with the problem with a mass culling of the older bulls – resulting in disastrous consequences.  With the older males gone the younger bulls came into musth, (their time to mate) far too early and for far too long, which brought about much unwanted aggression between them, and even caused their attempts to mate with the male rhinos.  Today the reserve is trialling a new male contraceptive, which if effective, will provide a humane way to manage the population.

From the air, the team with Mark are able to dart a lone male with tranquiliser in a bid to collect a semen sample, but as he frankly explains “the team needs to move fast to gain access to the bull’s penis before it retracts into its sheath,” and if you though that was too much information just wait until the hand’s on approach needed to obtain the sample are unveiled.  First an electro ejaculate is placed in the elephants anus, which, when powered up, produces a sufficiently stimulating current to produce an erection, then the team resort to that tried and tested method used in sperm donation clinics around the world…..

It took both Mark and his female scientist sidekick to handle the “enormous” elephant member, complete with giant homemade condom, the presenter exclaiming, “It’s alive” then observing, whilst struggling to keep hold, “it’s like a bloody rodeo!”  Now also seemed the ideal moment to inform us all of just how impressive bull elephants can grow to be, with balls the size of “a football” and a penis that “when full” can weigh as much as “30 kilos” and reach as long as “1.4 metres.  After much pulling and rubbing they finally collected their sample, which, luckily for the elephants, was revealed to have been a contraceptive success.

Back in Botswana Mark and Joy caught up with Kiti and her new arrival Naledi.  The sight of the newborn elephant really was a joy to behold with Mark summing up my thoughts perfectly, “on a scale of one to ten for cuteness this is definitely an 11.”  So, an illuminating if sometimes surprising insight into the life of elephants, yet despite spending weeks surrounded by herds of the majestic creatures I can’t help but feel that his unique ‘rodeo’ experience will always be Mark’s elephant in the room.