Blog

EleFact Friday – What is Musth?

We’re back this Friday with more EleFACTs about male elephants. Have you heard of musth? This annual hormonal cycle naturally occurs in adult bull elephants and can last anywhere from a few days to as long as several months. Physical and behavioral changes are characterized by secretion of a hormone-rich substance, temporin, from facial glands, possible aggressive behavior, and a steady trickle of urine down the bull’s back legs. Two separate studies by M.R. Jainudeen and Dr. Joyce Poole, studying Asian and African elephants, respectively, suggest that testosterone levels increase up to 50 times higher than normal, leading to the potential for heightened levels of aggression.

For elephants in captivity, this period in their lives can be difficult. Asian male elephants can weigh up to 15,000 pounds (6,810 kg), and any behavioral changes during this time could make them dangerous to themselves, other bulls, and female elephants. It takes an extreme level of care and knowledge to properly care for elephants in musth. Even bulls who are normally docile can exhibit behaviors that are abnormally aggressive, made even more dangerous by unsafe or improper confinements. These totally normal behaviors often make males a target of abuse, mistreatment, and neglect in captivity.

Providing sanctuary to male elephants offers them the benefit of having the space and freedom to release the pent-up levels of energy, anger, or frustration that may develop during musth. The open space allows them to roam on their own and release their feelings by knocking over a tree, fighting with a boulder, or splashing in a pond rather than taking them out on other elephants or even human keepers. In sanctuary, we can furnish an appropriate environment for these bull elephants to naturally express their feelings and reactions to the biological changes in their bodies, rather than suppress them and cause further damage to themselves or others.

Comments(12)

  1. REPLY
    Nancy HartGold says

    Perhaps in the future there will be no zoos and people can watch elephants via webcam at GSE, other sanctuary sites or in the wild.

  2. REPLY
    SHEILA says

    YES THE BOYS CERTAINLY SUFFER IN THEIR MUSTH!! URINATING IN THEIR LEGS CONSTANTLY! AND HORMONES RUNNNG DOWN SIDES OF FACE. THEN THEY GET ANGRY! BUTTING TREES DOWN OR FIGHTING WITH OTHER BULLS!
    POOR BULLS DONT HAVE AN EASY TIME OF THIS BREEDING DESIRE TIME! THEY CERTAINLY HAVE TO ROAM ALOT SOMETIMES TO FIND A WILLING FEMALE TO BREED! THE LIVES OF BULLS IN MUSTH IS VERY CHALLENGING ❗️

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Elephants who live in captivity may have a hard time during musth because of how they are treated by their keepers, but in sanctuary they should not suffer in the same way. It’s a natural process and is a sign of good health. Only some bulls get aggressive during musth and some are quite calm and like to keep to themselves.

  3. REPLY
    Julie says

    Awww, Tamy, you are going to feel so much better in sanctuary. So happy for you!

  4. REPLY
    Carol says

    A bit scary. What is the upside of musty? Does it play a role in reproduction? Does it enhance the bulls’ ability to fight for the desired female? Survival of the fittest???

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Some bulls can be aggressive during this time, but some are not. It can play a role in a male’s readiness to mate – but it also is a sign of a healthy male elephant.

  5. REPLY
    Beji says

    I think all the ladies will agree with me that when our hormones are out of whack, I could knock down a tree or fight a boulder. And win! Poor guys, a day at the spa helps.

  6. REPLY
    Sunny says

    Are others Asian male elephants waiting to get in to the sanctuary? From wich countries?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      There are a couple of Asian males, one from within Brazil, one outside of Brazil. But even if Tamy was the only one who came, it would absolutely be worth creating a space for him.

  7. REPLY
    Carol Anderson says

    Having raging bull elephants at sanctuary would defeat the calm found among the female elephants dont you think? Is there medication that can reduce this behavior?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      Tamy is 50 years old, he is past that prime. But not all males are like that. Scott worked with 3 males when he was young, they all were kept together, and only 1 out of the 3 was difficult to manage while in musth. We have already been at Mendoza while Tamy was in musth, and aside from draining, and his appetite going off, he doesn’t present that much differently.

  8. REPLY
    Tammy says

    My heart breaks for those bull elephants in countries that have stolen then beat and tortured them into submission only to do it even worse while these big boys are going through musth either because of their lack of knowledge or simply they sadly just dont care ? ? ?

Post a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.