Fifty Shades of Grey Elephant

By Theresa Bancroft

Lost amid the hype and hoopla surrounding Friday’s premiere of “Fifty Shades of Grey” was the discovery, reported in the journal Oh Science!, that some elephants engage in rough intimacy and enter into dominant-submissive relationships.

The article, entitled “Tusk-Poking and Trunk-Slapping in Asian Elephant Subcultures,” details the kinky and sometimes alarming desires of these otherwise cautious and conservative mammals.

“In the Xishuangbanna area of China we’ve monitored a heterosexual elephant couple that would be entirely at home in the red velvet dungeons of New York City,” said Kristen Stern, a wildlife biologist at Oxford University and an authority on elephant erotica. “The female plays a kind of bossy matriarch to the submissive, disobedient male. He (or Wally, as we call him) will pretend to have done something wrong, and for his misdeed receives a tusk poke from Hilda (as we call her) in the right or left buttock.” 

In 2012, Stern and her team of compliant research assistants spent six months tracking and videotaping a group of five polyamorous elephants with a penchant for spanking and slapping. The elephants—all members of an endangered species in northeastern Borneo—play an edgy game in which they pretend to blame one another for the loss of their habitat. Judgment and discipline follow. The guilty elephant lies prostrate with its bottom raised and takes a whipping or “trunk-flogging” from a master elephant.

“This is something to see,” said Stern, adding that an educational video of such practices will be available in March. “Now my team and I are off to the Malay Peninsula, where we’ll monitor a gay panther couple that has befriended a straight leopard couple. Witnesses have said the couples occasionally switch partners.”