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Elephant insights

The Intricacies of the Elephant’s Third Eyelid – Tokwe Demonstrates

By 22nd Jun 2020 No Comments

We’ve shared about the intricate structure of the elephant eye before, but we’re sometimes asked what the white substance in the corner of some elephants’ eyes is.

Here is our answer…

It all comes down to that nictating membrane, the elephant’s “third eyelid” which sweeps horizontally as nature’s way of keeping mud, dust and other debris out of the reddish-brown eyes of the animal. While cleaning their eyes in this way, the membrane moves a combination of moisture and debris out of the eye. This collects in the foam that you can sometimes spot in the corner of the eye, as seen in Matriarch, Tokwe’s little peeper above.

One of our carers removes the “gunk” from one of the Jabulani herd members’ eyes.

As for that moisture…

Most mammals have tear ducts, but due to their semi-aquatic past, elephants have lost theirs. Still, as with all terrestrial mammals, elephants’ eyes are kept lubricated and protected by “tears” – lubrication creating distinctive streaks from the elephants’ eyes. These streaks have given rise to the somewhat romantic notion that elephants cry, when in fact they really do just have a little something in their eyes.

Listen to Jabulani Elephant Manager, Tigere explaining and showing the process up-close here:


Discover more about the eyes of an elephant in our blog,
Through the Eyes of an African Elephant.

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