Humans wear gloves to protect our hands from dangerous or just unpleasant substances, in exchange for some decrease in sensitivity (and sometimes also dexterity, depending on how thick the gloves are).

Now, consider an elephant. It manipulates things with the tip of its trunk... which it also uses to breathe, and suck up liquids, and blow on things. Its range of functions is considerably greater than that of a human hand, so covering it with a simple mitten would seem to be a much worse trade off--and putting nostril holes in the mitten would fail to protect sensitive nasal passages in many situations.

So, what does a useful glove look like for a more-intelligent elephant that needs protection for, e.g., working in a foundry, or a chemistry lab, etc.?

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    $\begingroup$ Will they need to suck or blow on anything whilst working? Elephants can breathe through their mouth so they could have a fully protective glove and then take them off when they want a drink or need to blow or suck for other reasons. $\endgroup$
    – user96146
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ To expand on what @RayHammond said: humans which practice scuba diving cannot inhale air through their noses, and they do just fine. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 22:08
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    $\begingroup$ Hopefully your intelligent elephant is called an intelliphant. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ We have two hands, but intelliphants only have one trunk. Whatever form the glove takes, wouldn't it be very inconvenient to put it on/take it off? $\endgroup$
    – KC Wong
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ @KCWong It's not a problem if it's a two person job, and I can certainly imagine holders that make it a lot easier to put on a glove one-handed. $\endgroup$
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 19:40

7 Answers 7


Don't put the horse before the cart - ask first what kind of glove can an elephant MAKE?

Intelligent elephants (intelephants?) are going to have a very different relationship with fabrics to humans. For one thing, they aren't likely to have as many options - Leather, vellum and other heavy duty materials are by-products of being omnivores who eat other animals and thus end up with skins and furs to use for other purposes. There are some alternatives - Burlap, which I originally assumed was a kind of leather is in fact plant based, and of course cotton can be be treated to take on extra heft, but the point is they will approach the whole idea of fabric from a different angle. I can stretch my imagination to allow Elephants to domesticize other animals, giving them access to wool or silk, but systemized slaughter and skinning just doesn't seem to fit.

Furthermore, the fabrics they do use will be used differently. Knitting, sewing and weaving as we know them have all been optimized for two hands with thumbs. Elephants will come up with their own methodology to fit what comes naturally to their trunks. I feel like their textiles will end up being circular rather than rectangular, and there may be other distinctions as well.

Meanwhile, there are also going to be options available to them that aren't as realistic for us. Elephants are already going to be used to getting mud all over their trunks, so coating the lengths of their trunks in a resistant material won't feel icky or weird. Early civilizations will probably use unbaked clay or maybe processed tree sap or resin, but as they develop chemistry, more resistant substances can be developed. What I'm imagining now is that they'd temporarily plug their trunk, dip it in what is essentially a resistant coat of paint, let that set, and then get to work. This just seems all-around more convenient and natural than imagining how an elephant might design, make, put on and take off some kind of clothing for its trunk.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think burlap is an animal based product. Isn't it made out of jute plants? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ "Knitting, sewing and weaving as we know them have all been optimized for two hands with thumbs" the way we do it yes, to assume it can't be done by a non-human with a dexterous tentacle is speciesism, you rotten speciesismist you ಠ_ಠ . . . hey, it could be a word ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ Upvoted mainly for "intelephants" if I'm being honest. But it's a decent point nonetheless $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ What makes you think elephants won't eat meat? most herbivores will eat meat if given the chance. elephants will eat birds eggs. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 18:01


They have tubes inside the gloves that fits their nostrils like earpods for nostrils. They can put the other end behind their ears so that way they don't have to breath through their mouth to risk toxic chemicals getting in their lungs. Also you can filter the other end and use NosePods™ in other dangerous environments that doesn't actually require gloves but still toxic or with contaminated air.

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    $\begingroup$ nosepods.com/a/pre-launch 😂 $\endgroup$
    – Martin Ba
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 6:54
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    $\begingroup$ no way this is real😂 $\endgroup$
    – vivus
    Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 7:06
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinBa I can't find anything official about what those actually are but the search engines have this text under the link to their site: "Our odour and bacteria killing nose pods will help make your day a breeze. Manufactured in Canada. PPE certified. Try a free trial of our scented nose filters today!" $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 12:11

Elephants can breathe through their mouths, they do it all the time when their trunks hold water, for drinking or spraying. (They can drink with their mouth as well, in fact baby elephants only drink by mouth; they put their head half under the water, and breath through their trunk to drink.)

In the winter I can breath through several layers of closely knitted yarn that protect my face; a ski mask and a double-wrapped scarf. If you just want a glove on the trunk to keep it warm, or to act like a pot holder.

You wouldn't need that for something like an armored glove the elephant used in battle; those are also typically porous and breathable.

If you really want a fully closed glove on the trunk for some reason, the elephant would naturally and instinctively breathe through it's mouth. If you really wanted to, you could provide ventilation by running some air-tubes up the inside of the glove (attached to the glove), tip to cuff, to allow breathing in and out.

But elephants can just breathe through their mouth, they do it every time they take a drink with their trunk!



enter image description here

Elephants can make a pinching motion with the tip of their trunk, like how a human hand can pinch with the four fingers held together pinching with the thumb. See the pinching motion in action.

The most sophisticated type of glove has:

  1. Tubes running into the nostrils and back up the length of the trunk to allow breathing.

  2. Padding on the body of the trunk and also the sensitive tip.

  3. Hardened plates (flanges) to still allow the pinching motion of the trunk to work. Imagine you had fireproof fake nails:

enter image description here

Yuck. Anyway you could use these nails to handle small hot things without touching them with your fingertips. For example you could pull out a wire rack from the hot oven.

Now imagine you have asbestos gloves with slits cut out to let your fake nails protrude. Then you are fireproof with more dexterity than just the gloves. The elephant glove is similar except it only has two heatproof flanges rather than five.


So, what does a useful glove look like for a more-intelligent elephant that needs protection for, e.g.,

No different from humans, gloves would be specific to the tasks. People ride motorcycles with mittens. Work in the garden with gloves to protect them from thorns, others to protect from heat, dive, go into space etc. There is no one glove solution.

When you stop for lunch at a factory, you remove the safety gloves before eating or anything else. You only wear them for the task.

Elephants were in wars with armour, if you could teach them to sword fight, they would have attached swords to the trunks.



It is best to check in real life what kind of options we already have. Condoms might try to protect for different reasons, disease and pregnancy, but their goal is to separate two 'objects' from each other, including any liquids or other stuff containing disease.

We can try to apply this to an elephant. It can roll down a condom, which I'll further refer to as a plastic glove, over the trunk on the outside. The inside can be tricky. The glove has 2 long plastic flexible tubes attached, good for each nose. These can be sucked in by the elephant, creating a sort of laminated inside, protected like a condom would do.

If the glove has sealed ends it has to be sucked in together with whatever needs to be handled. The elephant knows the limit, as when it reaches the full extent of the glove the resistance to further sucking spikes. As it can breathe through the mouth it should have no problem moving it to a different location. It can then blow the contents when needed. The glove can get folds and be difficult to suck in when doing this. That increases the chance of breakage, but depending on the safety thickness we can make very safe options. I understand (similar to) condoms are used in survival kits on open seas, as they can expend to many times the size with little chance of breaking. This way they can hold sea water that'll be treated to be drinkable (never had the chance to fact check this though).

An alternative for less dangerous stuff is an open end. This way the elephant can smell it and inhale at least some of the contents. On the end can be a filter or even just tiny holes for extra safety. I assume an elephant feels until where it sucked the contents and can stop before it reaches the hole. That way it is easier to suck stuff in and blow it out, as the glove can stay fixed in the trunk.

Gloves and condoms can give plenty of fine touch sensation if high quality. Though cheaper gloves like some heavy duty ones I have for cleaning can still function great when handling stuff. Even though it's very clunky.

Though with much more dangerous materials we can also go the smart way. In many hazardous materials labs we use machines, mechanical arms or even something as simple as a trolley or a drum to move these materials. A smart elephant wouldn't come close to these materials.


Long tube with air-filter

This could be a long tube made of

  • rubber

  • leather

  • flexible plastic

(depending on the place of use) with air-filter at the end as shown

enter image description here


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