The African elephant's genome contains the largest number of smell receptor genes - nearly 2,000 - say the researchers in the journal Genome Research.
Olfactory receptors detect odors in the environment. That means elephants' sniffers are five times more powerful than people's noses, twice that of dogs, and even stronger than the previous known record-holder in the animal kingdom: rats.
"Apparently, an elephant's nose is not only long but also superior," says lead study author Dr Yoshihito Niimura of the University of Tokyo.
Just how these genes work is not well understood, but they likely helped elephants survive and navigate their environment over the ages.
The ability to smell allows creatures to find mates and food - and avoid predators.
The study compared elephant olfactory receptor genes to those of 13 other animals, including horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, cows, rodents and chimpanzees.
Primates and people actually had very low numbers of olfactory receptor genes compared to other species, the study found.
This could be "a result of our diminished reliance on smell as our visual acuity improved," sats Niimura.