Do elephants really have a natural ability to paint?
The first part of the answer lies in the elephants physical attributes. Their trunk has an estimated 40-50,000 muscles, at least 63 times more than the entire human body. It is most sensitive and extremely flexible. At the tip of its trunk, the Asian elephant has a prehensile extension, called a finger, which helps perform delicate tasks and pick up very small objects.
Elephants have been observed for many years, both in captivity and in the wild, to use sticks and make drawings in the sand. So the transition from a branch to a paint brushes is simply using another tool.
How do elephants learn to paint? Just like humans do. Any artist first learned how to hold a brush and how to use it for specific effects. That is also the process the elephant goes through. His/her mahout (caretaker) teaches his elephant these steps. The picture below shows an elephant taking an art lesson.
Elephants being very intelligent, they grasp the idea. Now, each elephant has its own preferred technique for using the brush. Many elephants hold the paint brush straight out from their nostril but a few of them coil their trunk around the brush. It is my opinion that it affects the painting style and precision.
They are now ready to try their new skills on a canvas as learned. And adding color to their new type of drawings, this also adds interest – yes, elephants have a keen sense of color.
From this point on, the elephant is encouraged to create his art according to its inspiration. The only help the elephant receives during painting is to take the paint brush handed by his mahout. The elephant is the only one to touch and decide what happens on the canvas.