Drunken Elephants?

Mighty_Emperor

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Elephants do seem to like getting off their trollies:

Drunken elephants electrocted

From correspondents in Guwahati
January 20, 2004


FOUR wild elephants who ran amok after getting drunk on rice beer were electrocuted in India's northeastern state of Meghalaya when they brought down power lines, an official said Tuesday.

The herd went on the rampage on Sunday night after storming into villages and drinking from open casks of beer in a remote area in Meghalaya's West Garo Hills district.

"The elephants after getting high on rice beer, went berserk and started dashing against an electric pole," the forest official said.

"A live high tension wire fell on the herd leading to the deaths of four elephants instantly," he said.

The casualties could have been higher but the herd of about 20 elephants moved away from the site sensing danger.

Wild elephants have been targeting areas in Meghalaya and the adjoining state of Assam where people brew large volumes of rice beer and have been causing large-scale devastation in remote areas in the two states.

"A depleting forest cover and encroachment of elephant corridors have forced the pachyderms to stray out of their habitats," Assam Forest Minister Pradyut Bordoloi said.

In the last two years, elephants have killed at least 180 people in Assam and Meghalaya. Angry villagers in turn have killed up to 200 of the animals.

The last elephant census in 1999 recorded 7,200 wild elephants in Assam and Meghalaya, more than half of India's count of 10,000.

Agence France-Presse
http://www.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,4057,8444309^13762,00.html
 

ramonmercado

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Elephants Drunk in the Wild? Scientists Put the Myth to Rest

Nicholas Bakalar
for National Geographic News

December 19, 2005
Almost anyone who has read a travel brochure about Africa has heard of elephants getting drunk from the fruit of the marula tree.

The lore holds that elephants can get drunk by eating the fermented fruit rotting on the ground. Books have been written asserting the truth of the phenomenon, and eyewitness accounts of allegedly intoxicated pachyderms have even been made.


But a new study to be published in the March/April 2006 issue of the journal Physiological and Biochemical Zoology tells a very different story.

Steve Morris, a biologist at the University of Bristol in England and a co-author of the study, says anecdotes of elephants found drunk in the wild go back more than a century.

"There are travelers' tales from about 1839 reporting Zulu accounts that 'elephants gently warm their brains with fermented fruits,'" Morris said.

But there is nothing in the biology of either the African elephant or the marula fruit to support the stories, he asserts.

"People just want to believe in drunken elephants," Morris said.

Eating Rotten Fruit?

The marula tree, a member of the same family as the mango, grows widely in Africa. Its sweet, yellow fruit is used for making jam, wine, beer, and a liqueur called Amarula.

But the first flaw in the drunken-elephant theory is that it's unlikely that an elephant would eat the fruit if it were rotten, Morris says.

Elephants eat the fruit right off the tree, not when they're rotten on the ground, he explained.

"This a largely self-evident fact," he said, "since elephants will even push over trees to get the fruit off the tree, even when rotten fruit is on the ground."

Other experts add that if an elephant were to eat the fruit off the ground, it wouldn't wait for the fruit to ferment.

Michelle Gadd, an African wildlife specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says that elephants and many other animals—including birds and monkeys—are too fond of marula fruit to let it rot.


"Animals flock, fly, or run to ripe marulas to take part in the gorging, leaving few fruits lying around long enough to ferment," she said.

"Elephants regularly visit and revisit the same marula trees, checking the fruits and the bark for palatability and devour the fruits when they are ripe."

Internal Fermenting?

If fermented fruit on the ground is out of the question, so too is the notion that the fruit could ferment in the stomach of elephants, the study authors say.

Believers of the drunken-elephant lore have often supported this theory of internal fermentation.

But food takes between 12 and 46 hours to pass through an elephant's digestive system, the authors point out, which is not enough time for the fruit to ferment.

Moreover, the authors write, "sugars within the diet are metabolized … to volatile fatty acids, making them unavailable to fermentation."

In other words, the sugars are turned into fat before they can ferment into alcohol.

It is conceivable, the authors concede, that some small amount of ethanol—also known as grain alcohol—could be produced in an elephant's digestive system, if its diet were rich enough in both yeast, which is necessary for fermentation, and fruit.

Even in the unlikely event that these things happened, it's still highly improbable that the food would produce enough alcohol to make an elephant drunk.

How Much to Get an Elephant Drunk?

This raises another question: Even if, under very peculiar circumstances, an elephant were exposed to alcohol, how much would it take to get it drunk?

Through calculations of body weight, elephant digestion rates, and other factors, the study authors conclude that it would take about a half gallon (1.9 liters) of ethanol to make an elephant tipsy.

Assuming that fermenting marula fruit would have an alcohol content of 7 percent, it would require 7.1 gallons (27 liters) of marula juice to come up with that half-gallon of alcohol, the scientists say.

Producing a liter of marula wine requires 200 fruits. So an elephant would have to ingest more than 1,400 well-fermented fruits to start to get drunk.

Even then the elephant would have to ingest the alcohol all at once, the authors note. Otherwise its effects would wear off as quickly as the alcohol was metabolized.

Robert Dudley, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley who was not involved in the study, believes the authors have put to rest the lore of elephants getting drunk from marula fruit.

The study, he said, "establishes that elephants are unlikely to be inebriated but also that chronic low-level consumption [of alcohol] without overt behavioral effects is likely."

It may make for a good story and a durable myth, but the science suggests you're not likely to see a drunken elephant sitting under a marula tree.

Jumbo
 

Graylien

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Amarula, by the way, is a lovely drink and just right for Christmas. It makes you feel all mellow and toasty.
 

milk23

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what about the famous television footage?
There is evidence that animals seek out things that will get them intoxicated so why should elephants be different??

bloody scientists
 

Mister_Awesome

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There was a show on cable when I was young, in the early-mid 80's, called Animals are Beautiful People (?) with tons of weird nature footage. It apparently showed this phenomenon. From what I remember, it did show elephants eating fruit off the ground, then stumbling and leaning and generally acting drunk, though it's quite possible that the footage was assembled to show something that wasn't there.
 

ramonmercado

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There was a show on cable when I was young, in the early-mid 80's, called Animals are Beautiful People (?)
i think it was a film called 'beautiful people' it showed elephants chimps and other animals apparently getting drunk and suffering from hangovers the next day. this could have staged and cleverly edited though.
 

Dingo667

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I was going to mention that program, on which you could actually see them picking fruit off the ground and the starting to loose their balance. Unless Elephants are really brilliant actors, they must have been drunk.
 

ramonmercado

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Unless Elephants are really brilliant actors, they must have been drunk.
but they are good actors. who would really guess that they have a controlling interest in 47 of the fortun top 100 companies?
 

GNC

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http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071143/

Animals are Beautiful People is available on DVD. It was directed by the same bloke who did The Gods Must Be Crazy but sounds a little... manufactured.
 

EnolaGaia

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This March 2020 Live Science article describes an alleged incident in which Asian elephants got drunk in China.
Elephants in China got drunk and passed out in a garden

Large public gatherings are currently prohibited in many places to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, but that didn’t stop a group of Asian elephants from partying in a field in Yunnan Province in China, where they found and drained vats of corn wine.

Two elephants drank so much wine that they passed out in a tea garden.

A photo of the inebriated elephants — lying curled up back to back on a dirt bed amid the greenery — went viral after it was shared on Twitter on March 18 by Parveen Kaswan, a conservationist and an Indian Forest Service officer. Kaswan mentioned in the tweet that wild elephants have a taste for booze, quipping that these particular pachyderms had turned to alcohol "to sanitize [their] trunks," and were sleeping off the aftermath. ...

In another tweet, Kaswan posted a photo of the elephant herd "when they were all sober," clustered together amid rows of crops. In forest regions where the elephants live, locals are aware of the animals' interest in human-made alcohol, Kaswan said. But even when people bury their liquor, "somehow elephants find it," Kaswan wrote in the tweet.

Elephants will even "mark" locations where they have previously found alcohol and come back later to see if there's more, Kaswan added. ...
SOURCE: https://www.livescience.com/drunk-elephants-china.html
 

EnolaGaia

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This March 2020 Live Science article describes an alleged incident in which Asian elephants got drunk in China.
Well, maybe not ... This more recent Live Science article debunks the March 2020 drunk elephants story ...
Viral story of 'drunk elephants' in China is adorable ... and false. Here's what really happened.

A photo that circulated widely on Twitter in March allegedly showed a pair of Asian elephants in rural southwestern China that had blissfully "passed out" in a tea garden after raiding a village and drinking too much human-made alcohol.

But sometimes, internet stories that seem too good to be true really are too good to be true.

Live Science wrote about the elephants, referencing a tweet by Parveen Kaswan, an Indian Forest Service officer, who said that the elephants "somehow found wine" and were sleeping off their boozy revel. But his tweets about the elephants have since been deleted, and further details about the elephants and the accompanying photos indicate that the story, while charming, was false. ...
FULL STORY: https://www.livescience.com/viral-photo-elephants-not-drunk.html
 

EnolaGaia

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Tipsy Elephants Probably Poisoned, Not Drunk

There's a longstanding myth that African elephants sometimes get plastered on the fruit of the marula tree.

As with many myths, there are some facts that fuel this one. Elephants do sometimes get visibly tipsy. The marula fruit gains an alcohol content of about 3 percent after a few days on the ground. Elephants like the fruit. And elephants have been known to raid stores of beer and wine, suggesting a desire to imbibe.

But in a new study -- yes, just about everything gets studied these days -- researchers determined that a three-ton elephant eating like a pig, and consuming nothing but marula fruit, would struggle to get smashed.

"Assuming all other model factors are in favor of inebriation, the intoxication would minimally require that the elephant avoids drinking water, consumes a diet of only marula fruit at a rate of at least 400 percent normal maximum food intake, and with a mean alcohol content of at least 3 percent," biologists Steve Morris, David Humphreys, and Dan Reynolds of the University of Bristol write a paper to be published in Physiological and Biochemical Zoology.

Here's the kicker: Elephants prefer marula fruit direct from the tree, not the stuff that's been lying around.

So what about those occasionally tottering pachyderms?

The researchers speculate that they've been poisoned instead. African elephants also eat the bark of the marula tree, the scientists note, and the bark is inhabited by the pupae of a beetle traditionally used to poison the tips of arrows.
SOURCE: https://www.livescience.com/3960-tipsy-elephants-poisoned-drunk.html
 

EnolaGaia

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This 2006 report largely debunks the tales of African elephants routinely getting drunk on fermented fruit.

Myth, Marula, and Elephant: An Assessment of Voluntary Ethanol Intoxication of the African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) Following Feeding on the Fruit of the Marula Tree (Sclerocarya birrea)*
Steve Morris David Humphreys Dan Reynolds
School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1UG, United Kingdom

Physiological and Biochemical Zoology
Ecological and Evolutionary Approaches

Volume 79, Number 2 | March/April 2006
Abstract
Africa can stir wild and fanciful notions in the casual visitor; one of these is the tale of inebriated wild elephants. The suggestion that the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) becomes intoxicated from eating the fruit of the marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea) is an attractive, established, and persistent tale. This idea now permeates the African tourist industry, historical travelogues, the popular press, and even scholastic works. Accounts of ethanol inebriation in animals under natural conditions appear mired in folklore. Elephants are attracted to alcohol, but there is no clear evidence of inebriation in the field. Extrapolating from human physiology, a 3,000‐kg elephant would require the ingestion of between 10 and 27 L of 7% ethanol in a short period to overtly affect behavior, which is unlikely in the wild. Interpolating from ecological circumstances and assuming rather unrealistically that marula fruit contain 3% ethanol, an elephant feeding normally might attain an ethanol dose of 0.3 g kg−1, about half that required. Physiological issues to resolve include alcohol dehydrogenase activity and ethanol clearance rates in elephants, as well as values for marula fruit alcohol content. These models were highly biased in favor of inebriation but even so failed to show that elephants can ordinarily become drunk. Such tales, it seems, may result from “humanizing” elephant behavior.
SOURCE: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/499983
 

EnolaGaia

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This 2012 article critically examines the repeated allusions to drunken Asian elephants wreaking havoc in India.
Is Every Single Elephant a Village-Wrecking Booze Hound?

"Marauding pack of booze-addled elephants wreak havoc on Indian village." It's a story, or at least a headline, that's surprisingly common.

A few representative samples from the news reports on the latest incident: "Herd of Elephants Go on Drunken Rampage After Mammoth Booze Up," and, of course, "Trunk and Disorderly!"

Those headlines refer to an elephant bender that reportedly took place in India's Dumurkota village on Sunday (Nov. 4), and if it's never occurred to you before, the idea they convey is arresting — gigantic, angry drunks with tusks. But destructive, town-smashing alcoholism has apparently afflicted Indian pachyderms since at least the 90s. In 2010, there was "Elephants on Drunken Rampage Kill 3 People;" in 2004, "6 Drunk Elephants Electrocute Themselves;" and in 1999, the understated, but seminal, BBC headline: "Drunken Elephants Trample Village." ...

So have elephants really hit rock bottom?

It is certainly true that Indian elephants frequently clash with humans, damaging homes and sometimes killing people as they struggle to adjust to shrinking habitats. ...

What isn't clear, though, is whether some wild elephants have really developed a jonesing taste for alcohol, as so many news reports allege. Also uncertain is whether elephants, if they did get into a store of liquor, would drink enough to bump an ordinary rampage up to a classifiable drunken rampage.

Science hasn't shied away from drunken elephants. In 1984, psychiatrist Ronald Siegel found that both chained circus elephants and elephants living in wildlife preserves would readily drink an unflavored, 7-percent-alcohol-by-volume (ABV) solution, even when other food and water sources were available. When he flavored solutions with mint, a favorite taste for elephants, they lapped up a 10-percent concentration, but refused to drink anything stronger.

In a 2005 study that put to rest the myth that African elephants get drunk on fermented fruit in the wild, the late Steve Morris, a biologist at the University of Bristol, did the math on elephant intoxication. He calculated that a 3.3-ton (3,000-kilogram) elephant, which would be skinny for a male Indian elephant and mid-range for a female, would have to speed-drink at least 2.6 gallons (10 liters) of a 7-percent ABV drink to get a behavior-modifying buzz.

The alluring brew that reportedly fueled the latest rampage is mahua, a drink made from the sweet flowers of the tropical mahua tree (Madhuca longifolia) that ranges in alcohol content from 20 to 40 percent, according to a 1998 study in the journal Alcohol Health and Research World.

That's above the limit the captive elephants would tolerate in 1984, and Shermin de Silva, a cofounder of Sri Lanka's Elephant Forest and Environmental Trust who studies conflict between elephants and humans, says she has a difficult time imagining that a wild elephant would willingly consume enough hard liquor to get drunk, unless the booze had an exceptionally sweet and appealing taste. Though the flowers of the mahua tree are sweet in their raw form, the drink is often described as pungent. ...
FULL STORY: https://www.livescience.com/24678-is-every-single-elephant-a-village-wrecking-booze-hound.html
 

kamalktk

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This 2012 article critically examines the repeated allusions to drunken Asian elephants wreaking havoc in India.


FULL STORY: https://www.livescience.com/24678-is-every-single-elephant-a-village-wrecking-booze-hound.html
"What isn't clear, though, is whether some wild elephants have really developed a jonesing taste for alcohol, as so many news reports allege. Also uncertain is whether elephants, if they did get into a store of liquor, would drink enough to bump an ordinary rampage up to a classifiable drunken rampage.

Science hasn't shied away from drunken elephants. In 1984, psychiatrist Ronald Siegel found that both chained circus elephants and elephants living in wildlife preserves would readily drink an unflavored, 7-percent-alcohol-by-volume (ABV) solution, even when other food and water sources were available. "

Those two sentences from the article seem contradictory. When tested both the circus and wildlife preserve elephants expressed a clear preference for the 7% ABV stuff despite it being unflavored.

In other words, they'd like a good pint. Getting them into the pub might be a bit harder.
 

Dick Turpin

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Elephants drinking rice beer?????

No wonder they were Elephants trunk. :)

No? Oh well I’d better join Cochise
 

EnolaGaia

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The situation becomes ever more complicated ... Other recently published research suggests elephants (and a surprising range of other mammals) are genetically ill-equipped to ingest alcohol and are therefore easily intoxicated.
Elephants Really Can’t Hold Their Liquor

Humans and other species have a gene mutation that lets them digest alcohol. In other species, it’s missing.

Humans are not the only animals that get drunk. Birds that gorge on fermented berries and sap are known to fall out of trees and crash into windows. Elk that overdo it with rotting apples get stuck in trees. Moose wasted on overripe crab apples get tangled in swing sets, hammocks and even Christmas lights.

Elephants, though, are the animal kingdom’s most well-known boozers. One scientific paper describes elephant trainers rewarding animals with beer and other alcoholic beverages, with one elephant in the 18th century said to have drunk 30 bottles of port a day. In 1974, a herd of 150 elephants in West Bengal, India, became intoxicated after breaking into a brewery, then went on a rampage that destroyed buildings and killed five people.

Despite these widespread reports, scientists have questioned whether animals — especially large ones such as elephants and elk — actually become inebriated. In 2006, researchers calculated that based on the amount of alcohol it takes to get a human drunk, a 6,600-pound elephant on a bender would have to quickly consume up to 27 liters of seven percent ethanol, the key ingredient in alcohol. Such a quantity of booze is unlikely to be obtained in the wild. Intoxicated wild elephants, the researchers concluded, must be a myth. As the lead author said at the time, “People just want to believe in drunken elephants.”

If you are one who wanted to believe, a study published in April in Biology Letters might serve as your vindication. A team of scientists say that the earlier myth-busting researchers made a common mistake: They assumed that elephants would have to consume as much alcohol to get drunk as humans do. In fact, elephants are likely exceptional lightweights because they — and many other mammals — lack a key enzyme that quickly metabolizes ethanol. The findings highlight the need to consider species on an individual basis. ...

Humans, chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas have an unusually high tolerance for alcohol because of a shared genetic mutation that allows them to metabolize ethanol 40 times faster than other primates. The mutation occurred around 10 million years ago, coinciding with an ancestral shift from arboreal to terrestrial living and, most likely, a diet richer in fallen, fermenting fruit on the forest floor.

To test whether other species independently evolved the same adaptation, Dr. Janiak and her colleagues searched the genomes of 85 mammals that eat a variety of foods and located the ethanol-metabolizing gene in 79 species. But they identified the same or similar mutation as humans in just six species — mostly those with a diet high in fruit and nectar, including flying foxes and aye-aye lemurs.

But most other mammals did not possess the mutation, and in some species, including elephants, dogs and cows, the ethanol-metabolizing gene had lost all function.

While the new study reveals the means by which elephants and other mammals may become inebriated, it does not explicitly confirm the phenomena in nature.
“The persistent myth of drunken elephants remains an open and tantalizing question, and a priority for future research” ...
FULL STORY: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/20/science/drunk-elephants-genes.html
 

EnolaGaia

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Here are the bibliographic particulars and abstract of the study cited in the New York Times article above. The full(?) article is accessible at the link.

Genetic evidence of widespread variation in ethanol metabolism among mammals: revisiting the ‘myth' of natural intoxication
Mareike C. Janiak , Swellan L. Pinto , Gwen Duytschaever , Matthew A. Carrigan and Amanda D. Melin
Biol. Lett.1620200070
Published:29 April 2020
https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2020.0070

Abstract
Humans have a long evolutionary relationship with ethanol, pre-dating anthropogenic sources, and possess unusually efficient ethanol metabolism, through a mutation that evolved in our last common ancestor with African great apes. Increased exposure to dietary ethanol through fermenting fruits and nectars is hypothesized to have selected for this in our lineage. Yet, other mammals have frugivorous and nectarivorous diets, raising the possibility of natural ethanol exposure and adaptation in other taxa. We conduct a comparative genetic analysis of alcohol dehydrogenase class IV (ADH IV) across mammals to provide insight into their evolutionary history with ethanol. We find genetic variation and multiple pseudogenization events in ADH IV, indicating the ability to metabolize ethanol is variable. We suggest that ADH enzymes are evolutionarily plastic and show promise for revealing dietary adaptation. We further highlight the derived condition of humans and draw attention to problems with modelling the physiological responses of other mammals on them, a practice that has led to potentially erroneous conclusions about the likelihood of natural intoxication in wild animals. It is a fallacy to assume that other animals share our metabolic adaptations, rather than taking into consideration each species' unique physiology.
https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsbl.2020.0070
 
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