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musty elephants

The sun was climbing towards its zenith by the time we reached the Save the Elephants research station. We were forced to cut our visit a little short as we had a long drive to our next destination. Still, we were glad to have spent some time with Shifra, who shared a few interesting tidbits about the elephants she studies. Before we left, she also showed off a mangled car that was conspicuosly rusting in the shade of a nearby tree.


Two Save the Elephants researchers were using the car to observe a pair of elephants in musth. When they reach middle age, male elephants experience periodic hormonal surges that cause them to be extremely aggressive and sex-crazed. They ooze copious amounts of a substance called temporin from glands in their ears and because they spend much of musth in a state of perpetual arousal, they also dribble urine and other secretions from their genitalia. Elephants in musth have been known to attack rhinos and they can also be violent towards humans, we learned.

In this case, the two elephants were fighting to relieve some of their hormonal pressures and one of them was taking a beating. At a certain point he had had enough and, abandoning the fight, took his frustrations out on the vehicle, delivering several powerful blows before rolling it over multiple times. Miraculously, the two researchers survived, thanks largely to the other elephant, who reengaged his frustrated partner in combat.

two five-legged elephants

We saw these two bull elephants tussling in the Mara. When we drove closer they disengaged and scurried behind a bush, their fifth legs in plain sight. Had we known about musth then, we likely would have been a bit more cautious about approaching them. 

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