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____________Useless Backstory_________________________________________________

In my world, A hurricane has washed a group of 8,000 pachyderms off of Afro-Eurasia and onto a large island cluster. Due to the island rule, dwarfism ensues, and the population is made of of a group of tiny elephants that are 3 feet at the shoulder in adulthood. These elephant are, however, highly intelligent, with complex social behaviour and use of basic tools.

Question: What type of adaptations would grant human-like prehensility to their trunks to facilitate tool use?

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The only real improvement an elephant trunk could benefit from might be more fingers. They only have one or two fingers. Elephant trunks are actually astonishingly prehensile already. (Warning: the last of the three links includes a dissection of a trunk, which is rather graphic)

Elephant trunks are actually amazing. They have more individually controllable motor units than a pack of 10 full humans put together! Control of the trunk is such a big deal that the elephant devotes massive brainpower to it. People are known to feel like the trunk is its own creature, separate from the elephant!

I think the only thing really stopping elephants from doing what you say is that they don't have the need to. If their brain evolved to encourage tool use, I don't think their body would have to do much to keep up.

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  • $\begingroup$ "The only real improvement" -- I'd add that a second (or even third) "hand" would be another major benefit. I suppose that a second or bifurcated trunk is evolutionarily unlikely. But using the front legs in combination with the trunk might be nice. Smaller elephants wouldn't need such blocky feet, so even while remaining quadrupedal it'd be nice if, like cats, they could grab with their front feet to assist the trunk and provide a double grip. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Sep 6 '16 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ Elephants already use at least two kinds of poor double-grip: standing on things to hold them still while manipulating them with the trunk (e.g. breaking up branches); and trunk+mouth when stripping leaves or bark off a branch to eat. So getting from there to two-grip tool use seems kind of plausible and beneficial. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Sep 6 '16 at 12:19
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One thing you need to consider is that when you move elephants off the mainland somewhere and put them on an island then they will become miniature elephants because if you cut down their range they will either have to shrink or die. It has happened in many places around the world and one is Baja, CA if you want to study up on how it happened. Depending on how else you change their environment there could be other changes as well. If you want to change the trunk some way the most obvious way to do it is to invent a change in the food they eat and how they have to grab hold of it.

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