Yes they do! As in all young mammals, an elephant calf’s sucking reflex, which prompts it to drink from its mother’s breast, is strong. And when a youngster is not feeding, it may suck its trunk for comfort, just as a human baby would suck its thumb.
Newborn elephants have little control over their trunks and must learn how to use them. They practise by exploring their environment – touching fellow herd members, their surroundings and themselves. They must then master the use of their trunks for feeding. With more than 50,000 individual muscle units in the trunk, it’s a complex skill to learn.
Though trunk-sucking is more common in the early stages of life, elephants of all ages do it, even big old bulls, usually when they are feeling nervous or unsure.
Sometimes an elephant that appears to be sucking its trunk is actually using it to smell, placing the tip inside its mouth after touching or sniffing dung or urine to assess pheromones produced by other elephants.