Song of the Lost Clan Information and Resources on the Young Adult Novel

Can Elephants Get Drunk?

May 4, 2015 · By Angela Render

Among other animals, the sweet, yellow fallen fruit from Africa’s marula tree (Scelerocarya birrea), lightly fermented, are a passionate favorite of elephants. A type of mango, early writers called it the fruit that ‘drives elephants mad.’ Photos taken of elephants after they’ve consumed the fruit bear out the African legend that elephants can get drunk from the fruit. Indeed, they’ve been observed behaving in a drunken fashion for centuries.

But are they getting drunk?

A 2005 study asserts that the alcohol content in fallen marula fruit is not high enough (3% at best) for a mammal the size of an elephant to become intoxicated. They physically could not consume enough of the fruit fast enough. Additionally, elephants tend to prefer the fermented fruits that are still on the tree and will shake the tree to make them drop. The writers of the study venture the possibility that consuming beetle pupae living in the bark may be responsible for the behavior. These pupae are the source for a poison that natives tip their arrows in and it’s possible the toxins have an intoxicating effect on elephants. it could be that having a stomach full of sweet fruit just makes them happy and playful. Until we learn to speak elephant and can ask them, we may not know.

Photo from Singita.

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