Musth Lust

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June 24, 2015 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

When you look at the animal kingdom, very few things actually make sense.  Why are hippos one of the most aggressive animals on the planet?  Why is necrophilia the only reproductive option for praying mantises?  And whose bright idea was it to make sharks both the dumbest, and most adaptable apex predator that ever existed?

Besides functionality, even the form of certain animals is enough to make you scratch your head.  A spiders’ mandible kinda looks like a labia[1], a bats’ wing looks like Mr. Fantastics’ scrotum, and a platypus looks like something from a Salvador Dali dream directed by Guillermo Del Toro.  And then there’re elephants.  Whoever it was, be they God, nature, or atliens decided to make a benevolent, intelligent and enormous herbivore, with knives sticking out of its fucking face.  But they’re great- Everyone loves elephants because they’re smart, altruistic, and good-natured animals.  Parents make sacrifices for their calves, they live in highly organized social structures, and they never antagonize anyone else.  In short, elephants remind us of ourselves at our best.  However, the stereotypical depiction of elephants only applied to female elephants.

Male elephants, as with most male mammals are assholes though.  Across the animal kingdom, males have been known to leave their family, attack their mates, and even cannibalize their young.  What male elephants do is solely unique to elephants however.  Randomly and for no casual reason, they will undergo a period of intense hormonal activity called musth.  The best way to describe musth is that it’s kinda like estrus…but in reverse.  During musth, an elephant’s testosterone levels may be 60 times higher as it normally would be causing them to become incredibly violent, and in some cases deadly.  And again, just to reiterate, scientists have found no discernible reason for musth to occur.

Does this remind anyone else of Jurassic Park?

Imagine you have a friend who’s normally like Gandhi, but when he drinks he becomes Jack the Ripper.  That’s essentially what musth is as it can turn the most docile elephant into an uncontrollable killing machine, unparalleled by anyone save for NFL players.  Again, there is no reason or evolutionary advantage to this behavior…I can’t stress that enough.  Even if it’s a way of showing dominance, elephants in musth have been known to kill females, and if one such male gets to close to a female, her herd will try and protect her.

As elephant’s don’t really have a mating season, males are susceptible to the spontaneity of musth, as it can literally arise out of normal and last anywhere from 15 minutes to four months.  Nothing can account for what causes this rush of hormones or why it happens, but it’s just further proof that men could not handle a menstrual cycle…even one.  One of the symptoms of musth is an enormously painful eyeache that’s caused by a swelling in the temporal duct.  It’s also theorized that this swelling leads to cranial pain as the swelling pushes the brain against the skull.  This behavior of musth doesn’t really seem to benefit anyone.  Imagine if this happened to people, where they would just spontaneously go crazy for months on end, cut a swath of destruction, and then wake up one day back to normal, as if nothing happened.  You take the most morally resolute animal in existence, and then you flush him with more sex hormones than he can handle and his first and really only reaction is to kill anything he sees.  If that’s an elephant’s reaction, it’s probably for the best that humans don’t go through musth.

Not only have elephants in musth been known to kill females, they’ll also attack animals that have absolutely no bearing on their existence.  Emboldened by an ungodly amount of testosterone, they’ve been known to wantonly kill rhinos and giraffes.  It’s kinda the equivalent of a human going out of his way to run over every squirrel or goose that comes his way.  It just doesn’t make any goddamn sense!  What purposes does turning the Mr. Rogers of the animal kingdom into Charles Manson serve?

Traditionally there are two ways of dealing with an elephant caught in the chaotic throes of musth.  It’s really the same method, just put into practice differently.  The only way to deal with a bull elephant in musth is just to wait it out.  That’s it; you just have to wait for his hormonal force of destruction to come to his senses.  Again this may take 15 minutes or 122 days.[2]  The “Western” way, also considered the more humane option, involves isolating the bull and feeding him tranquilized food from afar in an attempt to calm him down.  The drawback with this alternative is that it really doesn’t reduce the time that the elephant is still in a frenzied state.  The other, more “Traditional” method, used predominantly in India, involves chaining the elephant down to a tree and depriving him of food, thereby starving the musth out of him.  While generally frowned upon, the “Traditional” method is more effective as bulls generally come out of musth after a week of being starved.  Imagine if every hormonally charge teen could be effectively disciplined with starvation.

Why take one of the gentlest animals ever created, and then turn them into psychotic monsters at the drop of a dime?  During musth, these giants become uncontrollable monsters for no real reason at all.  Besides rare occurrences in camels, no other animal undergoes musth.  Not lions, not bears, not even hippos have these hormonally induced bouts of aggression.  And it’s not even like musth is associated with reproduction; it’s a detrimental state of being for the bull, as well as a dangerous environment for other elephants, human caretakers, and random giraffes passing by.  The animal kingdom is a fucked up place.  It randomly turns the sweetheart of its kingdom into its biggest prick and reminds us once again that it’s the nice ones you have to watch out for.


[1] A very Freudian observation, as Sigmund Freud often attributed spiders with oppressive and smothering female figures.

[2] The popular theory is that more dominant bulls stay in musth much longer than weaker or younger bulls.  It’s one thing to be backed up with sperm, but to go crazy because of it?  I mean elephants don’t have hands but I’m sure they could use their tusks to release the pressure valve.

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