Happy EleFACT Friday. Last weekend, we shared a video showing how inundated we are with mangoes, which oftentimes fall close to our property. We got several questions about what would happen if the fruit were to go bad before we could pick it up. There is a common misconception that fruit that gets left to decompose can often become fermented, and today we wanted to look into this further to see if it’s true — and if our elephants and their late night parties are fueled by some leftover fruit on the ground.
Historically, stories have been shared that animals of several species, including elephants, have been known to eat fallen fruit and appear to be intoxicated. From African elephants supposedly eating overripe fruit from the marula tree, to a moose getting stuck in a tree after eating too many rotten apples, these stories range far and wide. The truth is that the amount of fruit that an elephant would need to eat to account for their large mass would be in large quantities, almost to the point where it would be impossible to eat that much.
In comparison to humans, studies have shown that elephants don’t break down and metabolize ethanol as quickly as we can. In fact, human bodies possess an enzyme in the ADH7 gene that can help us metabolize ethanol 40 times faster than other primates. Elephants, and even their mammoth ancestors, do not possess this gene at all.
As far as the elephants here at sanctuary getting a little wild with our mangoes, it’s very unlikely, if not impossible, that any of them will ever eat enough of the fallen fruit to feel the effects. In mango season, we make a point to collect the fruit from the ground before it can even begin to go bad and ferment. In the wild, if elephants were exposed to large amounts of fruit rotten on the ground, there could be a very slim possibility that eventually, after eating as much as they possibly can, they may feel a bit of a “buzz,” since they don’t possess the metabolizing gene. It seems as if this elephant myth is more of a question that may not have an answer; maybe we should call today EleTHEORY Friday instead?
Photo of Mara and some nice fresh fruit