What is musth? <ul><li>Musth is the Hindi rendering of the Urdu word mast, meaning intoxicated, which comes from an earlier Persian expression, which means poisoned. An elephant in musth will kill anything in its way - humans, including its keepers, other elephants or any other animal. Musth elephants are sometimes known as rogue elephants. </li></ul>
The musth can be defined as a periodical change of the behaviour of elephant bulls, which can last from some weeks up to some months. This change has got hormonal reasons. In the musth period a bull produces 40 to 60 times more of testosterone (male sex hormone) than in the non-musth time. As far as I know, this phenomenon occurs with elephant bulls only - particularly with Asian elephant bulls.
An essential part of the problems of the keeping of elephant bulls is the so-called musth. Musth is a word of Persian origin and is translated in the languages of Northern India by "condition of poisoning". The word musth is used to describe an abnormal behaviour or the behaviour of a drunk, whether human being or elephant.
Some of the males displayed unusual symptoms and characteristics. Some males showed "tears" streaming down the side of their faces (secretions from temporal glands), and continual dripping of urine onto their legs. Besides these physical changes, there were associated changes in behaviour. Males that were streaming tended to follow females that were in oestrus, and were markedly more aggressive than others .
Typically, females form groups comprising a number of families consisting of a mother, and her offspring of different ages. These separate and reform depending on current resources. Adult males on the other hand, separate from these family herds, and spend most of their time in the "bull areas", which family groups typically avoid.
This is an area, infrequently visited by the breeding herds, where elephant bulls spend much of their leisure time building up strength and sorting out the bull hierarchy; a sort of men’s club. As the bull feels the urge, or the rumblings of an upcoming musth period, he leaves the bull area in search of the herds and any mating opportunities
Within bull areas, males encounter each other, and fight over resources such as access to food and water. Bulls establish a dominance hierarchy based on size, with the larger bull being dominant over smaller ones. Musth males are more aggressive probably as a result of higher levels of testosterone, and most other males will avoid a musth bull
<ul><li>Musth changes an individual’s position in the hierarchy, and any bull that is in musth automatically becomes dominant to any bull that is not in musth. This is regardless of size, so that even a young bull can chase off a large patriarch. Musth bulls leave bull areas and move after female herds, seeking out a receptive female in oestrous. Receptive females are the ultimate resource and musth bulls encountering each other with the herd may fight to the death. </li></ul>
We are not really sure why elephants enter musth. Individuals that do enter musth manage to exclude all other non-musth individuals from females that are ovulating. This means that they will get to father more offspring and any characteristic or behaviour that allows this will be favoured by natural selection..
<ul><li>The reason for the musth seems to be that it prevents inbreeding. If the bulls would not be at their aggressive peak only for a month a year, only the largest, most dominant bull would cover the females all the time. In captivity, the limited space makes it dangerous to let a bull in must condition to a female, since she may be attacked and wounded if she is not willing to mate. </li></ul>
It is simple to imagine a situation where females stimulated some males to secrete more testosterone. They in turn were more successful at excluding other males from those females because they were much more aggressive, and determined to enter and prolong clashes with other males. This characteristic would quickly spread through the population
<ul><li>Bulls in musth typically stream secretions from their temporal glands (tears on the side of their heads). This may be a route for secretion of excess testosterone, which in large concentrations can be deadly. These secretions could also be a means of signaling to other individuals. several volatile compounds from the temporal secretions, and these could well signal to other individuals a wide range of messages. The most perplexing aspect of musth is the continual streaming of urine down the legs of the males. </li></ul>
<ul><li>There is always the risk of infection, especially seeing the penis becomes coated in an algal layer, giving it a green sheen, and resulting in the nickname of GP-syndrome, or green penis syndrome of the highest level of musth. Perhaps this is also a signal to other males to stay away. A musth bull certainly has a distinctive smell! It could also be a signal to the females. </li></ul>
<ul><li>At all times there would be at least one large adult musth male in the herd who would displace any young pretenders. In fact, older bulls that are in musth actually suppress the musth cycle of less dominant younger bulls to the extent that they will fall out of musth a few days. This results in a stable hierarchy of bull elephants, with the older more experienced bulls coming into musth for a full period of 3-5 months a year, and less dominant bulls being in musth for relatively shorter periods. The most subordinate bulls will not come into musth at all. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Musth (or, alternately spelled, must) is a periodic condition in bull elephants, characterized by a thick, tar-like secretion called temporin from the temporal ducts and, far more notably, by highly aggressive behaviour. It is accompanied by a significant rise in reproductive hormones - testosterone levels in an elephant in musth can be as much as 60 times greater than in the same elephant at other times. However, whether this hormonal surge is the sole cause of musth, or merely a contributing factor, is unknown: </li></ul>
<ul><li>scientific investigation of musth is greatly hindered by the fact that, once under the influence of musth, even the most otherwise placid of elephants may actively try to kill any and all humans. Similarly, the tar-like secretion remains largely uncharacterised, due to the difficulties of collecting samples for analysis; however, secretions and urine collected from zoo elephants have been shown to contain elevated levels of various highly odorous ketones and aldehydes. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Although it has often been speculated that musth is linked to rut, this is unlikely because the female elephant's estrus cycle is not seasonally-linked, whereas musth most often takes place in winter. Furthermore, bulls in musth have often been known to attack female elephants, regardless of whether or not the females are in heat. Connections to dominance behaviour have also been speculated. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Mahouts are often able to greatly shorten the duration of their elephants' musth: this is accomplished by tying the bull to two extremely strong trees, and keeping him on a starvation diet until the musth ends, typically after 5 to 7 days; Xylazine is also used. It should be noted that, as mahouts work with Asian elephants, the starvation technique has not been tried on African elephants. </li></ul>
<ul><li>swollen temple or temporal glands </li></ul><ul><li>swollen trunk base </li></ul><ul><li>an oily liquid comes out of the temple glands, leaving a black trace across the cheeks to the corners of the mouth </li></ul>
<ul><li>penetrating smell of sweat and urine </li></ul><ul><li>permanent dripping of urine and hind legs, which are wet on the inside by urine drops </li></ul><ul><li>no erection of the penis </li></ul><ul><li>the foreskin of the penis becomes white-greenish </li></ul>
<ul><li>Can the beginning of musth be predicted? With Maxie, the elephant bull in the Zurich zoo, it is conspicuous that, about two months before it is obviously in the musth, the floor of its stable begins to foam when it is washed out. </li></ul>
<ul><li>The male elephant encounters the most dramatic change in this life cycle. During adolescence the male will begin to separate from the matriarchal herd and begin to join male herds, sometimes known as bachelor herds. This usually happens at maturity, usually at thirteen years of age. Males tend to form herds that travel over greater distances than females. Females stay with the herd until death. The male herds join the female elephants when they are in estrous. </li></ul>
<ul><li>his sexual awakening will allow the elephant to breed until the age of fifty. For the male this will mean the onset of musth between fifteen to eighteen years of age; once begun this typically occurs once every year in healthy elephants. The period of musth tends to last around three months, which does not take into account the onset and latter stages. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Adolescence in the elephant is the time when weaning has stopped until about the age of seventeen. It denotes the period in which final growth and maturation have gone through their greatest changes. Basic herd structures are formed during this time in the life cycle. Another key feature of the adolescent years is the sexual maturity that is reached between the ages of eight and thirteen. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Recently it was discovered that long-term administration of leuprolide acetate (LA) depot reduces the musth. Early musth signs ceased within 3 days of drug administration after 10 of 12 injections. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Asian Wild bulls often go into musth during rain season, and when they have had un normal access of food, so the reason for the longer musth periods in captivity may have a connection with the short days during winters, (hormones often depend on daylight)over feeding, and under stimulation. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Bulls aging over 55 does seldom show musth at all. Many Indian mahouts claim that Makhnas show lesser musth than tusker´s. In captivity, bulls are claimed to have been in musth for over a year, (Hellabrunn Zoo, Munich) or longer. (CopenhagenZoo) </li></ul>
<ul><li>Younger bulls usually also go into a similar condition, from about their tenth year, but not so strong, and not so long time usually, a couple of days or a week, developing stronger musth for every year, with a peak between 30 and 40, then gradually showing less symptoms. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Most cases of elephants killing their handlers, or reports of a"rogue" wild elephant running wild through villages and attacking people, is during musth, when they get out of control, and their level of aggression is high. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Is musth a bulls' rutting time? The opinion of many zoo visitors that a musth bull would be in his rutting season, is absolutely wrong. Musth has nothing in common with rut . The elephant bulls don't know a rutting season like deers or antelopes, because the oestrous cycle of the female elephants is not seasonally timed. </li></ul>
Why do elephant bulls go into musth? <ul><li>Actually there is nothing known about the purpose of the musth. Every elephant researcher and every elephant keeper has got his own opinion. Usually the ideas are about the marking of territories, the expelling of other bulls from an area and about the possibility that also a physically weaker bull can reproduce itself this way. The musth seems to be a remnant from the elephants' prehistoric time, which has endured up to the modern age. </li></ul>
Does a bull in musth spend time with the elephant group? <ul><li>For this reason it is also right not to bring the bull into contact with the female elephant during its musth. The risk that the musth bull could attack the cows because they annoy it for any reason is too big. The fact that the musth bull cannot be controlled by the elephant keepers and the very cramped conditions in a zoo would give the cows and the elephant calves no chance to get out of danger. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Can musth be prevented? </li></ul><ul><li>As the musth is no disease or other pain , it cannot be prevented or treated. The musth is part of the natural behaviour of the elephant. I don't know if the bull feels well in the musth or if it doesn't; if it has a headache when it presses its head against the iron bars or if it is simply furious and angry and wants to be left alone. Above all, it can't stand sudden movements and noise. Moreover it is very likely that the skin of the hind legs causes pain to the elephant because it is irritated by the constant dripping of urine . This let the idea arise that the musth could be connected with light and thus with the exposure of the pituitary gland. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Mental symptoms of the musth are: </li></ul><ul><li>autistic behaviour </li></ul><ul><li>aggressive outbursts when the bull feels disturbed </li></ul><ul><li>does not tolerate any noise and sudden movements </li></ul><ul><li>does in everyday contact hardly react to familiar commands of the keeper </li></ul><ul><li>tries to attack even familiar elephants and humans </li></ul>
<ul><li>Of what significance is musth when looking after elephants? </li></ul><ul><li>These symptoms complicate the contact with the bull considerably. It is also very discouraging for the elephant keeper to work with a withdrawn, extremely aggressive elephant, which disapproves everything and actually is out to kill him </li></ul>
Why is musth dangerous? <ul><li>The danger of the musth for the elephant keeper is that the bull usually at first doesn't have any outer physical musth symptoms. This is one of the main reasons, why the elephant bull has to be kept in a special bull stable, where there is no direct physical contact to the keeper. If the bull would be kept like a female elephant, sooner or later a bad accident would certainly happen. </li></ul>
<ul><li>. </li></ul>What significance does musth have for a working elephant? As for working elephants, the musth means of course also a loss of earnings for the mahout. To minimize the musth period of the working bull and the loss of earnings, the musth bulls are treated drastically. During this time the bulls get very few food and drinking water.
<ul><li>The idea that the musth is shorter when the bull has a hard time seems to be true. So the musth of working bulls lasts several days and not 5 to 7 months like for some zoo elephants. Our ethics and morals forbid us to treat zoo bulls in our world like working bulls in Asia. </li></ul>
<ul><li>In Kerala, an extensive study was conducted, to understand the phenomenon of musth in elephants. Musth is a physiological phenomena, occurring annually in male, Asian elephants. Physiological changes are accompanied by change in behaviour as well. It was observed that, musth occurred more regularly, in well nourished elephants, between the age group of 21- 80 years. Moda or adolescent musth was observed in elephants of age group 15-20 years. The average duration observed was1-2 months. There was an exceptional case of 5 month duration, in one bull. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Musth occurs mostly in the cold season, the month of December, in Kerala. Musth period is divided into three phases: pre-musth, mid-musth or violent musth and post-musth. Musth is a very dangerous period for handling. Elephants become aggressive and become out of control and cause damage to life and property. Musth management in captivity, has always been a problem. However, by taking some precautionary measures, it is possible to overcome this problem. Some measures are discussed below. </li></ul>
<ul><li>It is essential to chain or restrict the elephant's movements during musth on account of the violent behaviour. The chains have to be tested for their condition. The musth elephant is chained both by the hind and front legs. One of the fore legs is chained to any tree or a pillar in the front. This arrangement makes it safer for the mahout. He can approach the elephant from behind, to clean the tethering area, and also to move the chain from one leg to another </li></ul>
<ul><li>Elephants may pull and fiddle with their chains during musth. They do not do this when they are not in musth. Therefore, special musth chains must be used. It is ideal to use a chain or fetter with 7/8" diameter links. The chains also must be fitted with ' U ' shaped clamps with strong screws. There must be a distance of 2 feet, 60 cms between the tethering pole and elephant's hind leg. The chains and fastenings must be double checked. </li></ul>
<ul><li>It is also sensible to keep spare chains, for emergency. A circular loop called the thirukanni (a ball and socket like joint) should be present on the chain. This allows the chain to twist without breaking. </li></ul>
<ul><li>During musth, elephants have to be chained for long periods, until it becomes safe for mahouts to handle. Thus the elephant may develop chain sores from prolonged chaining. Mahouts must attempt to move the chains up and down the leg, with a long pole. He must stand behind the elephant to do this. It may not be possible to do so with every elephant, as some may grab the stick or charge at the mahout. So chain sores, during musth , are inevitable. Some elephants on the contrary, remain docile and allow chains to be transferred, from one leg to another. </li></ul>
<ul><li>The mahout must check the strength of the tree to which the elephant is to be tethered. The surroundings must be clean and hygienic. The tree must be large enough to provide plenty of shade </li></ul><ul><li>Elephants must be left alone during musth. They are agitated by the slightest noise, from traffic or people. </li></ul><ul><li>A water tank, with constant supply of running water, must be provided. It must be placed at a distance reachable to the elephant's trunk. The tank must not be too close to the elephant, as it may destroy it. </li></ul>
<ul><li>The elephant must be showered with water at least once a day, to cool it. </li></ul><ul><li>The tethering site must be on a slight incline to facilitate drainage of urine and dung. </li></ul><ul><li>The mahout must be present in the vicinity, throughout the musth period. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Pre-musth - Symptoms </li></ul><ul><li>Engorgement of temporal glands. </li></ul><ul><li>Discharge observed at the temporal gland openings. This initial discharge is a dirty brown, viscous fluid, with a strong smell. This fluid may sometimes block the temporal opening or the opening may be too small to allow free flow of fluid. Both these conditions, are very uncomfortable to the elephant . It may scratch the region with a twig or any other sharp object. This may injure the area and cause an abscess. The gland on that side may stop secreting fluid and will have to be operated. On noticing signs of discomfort due to blockage, the mahout must assist the flow, by squeezing out the fluid </li></ul>
<ul><li>The perineal region, below the tail, enlarges. This is a very obvious symptom. </li></ul><ul><li>The penis will emerge to its full length and elephant will masturbate frequently. The penis strikes against the stomach, resulting in ejaculation of seminal fluid. Sometimes the penis emerges into its full length and trails on the ground. The mahouts may have to prop it up with a cloth, to prevent abrasions. </li></ul><ul><li>Urine dribbles constantly. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Elephant exhibits a tendency to gore any moving or non moving object that catches its attention. There is an intense feeling of vengeance towards mahouts. The assistant mahouts must be careful while approaching the elephant. Many ignorant mahouts are unaware of the danger. They get killed or severely injured, while approaching the elephant during this period. </li></ul>
II. Mid or violent musth-Symptoms <ul><li>Initial phase of violent musth </li></ul><ul><li>The secretion of fluid is slow and it is viscous in nature. </li></ul><ul><li>Behaviour continues to be unruly. It disobeys commands and will react violently on hearing mahout’s voice. </li></ul><ul><li>The body is stretched, taut and stiff. The trunk is extended forwards as if reaching out for something. The ears are spread out as if listening intently for sounds. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Middle phase of violent musth: </li></ul><ul><li>The temporal fluid flows faster (like tear drops) and has a pungent odour like that of gun powder, and can be recognised from a distance. </li></ul><ul><li>Some elephants may have a red colour around the temporal region. </li></ul><ul><li>Behaviour continues to be aggressive. The trunk is beaten on the ground as an indication of discontent and anger. Tendency to pull more violently at chains and tethers. </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of appetite. Some elephants are offered palatable foods like banana and curd rice during these times. </li></ul>
Final phase of violent musth: <ul><li>This phase may last for a month. </li></ul><ul><li>The glands reduce in size and the flow of the musth fluid subsides </li></ul><ul><li>Normal urination with protrusion of penis. </li></ul><ul><li>The elephant becomes less aggressive and violent and may even start obeying commands. </li></ul>
III. Post musth: <ul><li>This is the final stage of Musth </li></ul><ul><li>The gland is regressed and flow of fluid stops completely </li></ul><ul><li>Urination is normal </li></ul><ul><li>The behaviour reverts to normal. </li></ul><ul><li>Mahouts must be continue to be careful while handling. The elephant must have restraining chains on its body, while being moved around, right after musth. </li></ul>
<ul><li>When in musth, the mahouts cool the elephant by spraying water on its body. This helps the musth fluid to flow easily and quickly. Sometimes, the entire fluid may not flow out at once. In such a case, the animal may go into musth again in the same year. After musth, elephants are provided with a special diet, to improve their health </li></ul>
<ul><li>3kg of gingelly and jaggery mixed together can be fed to the elephant after musth, to improve its health. While under medication, the animal must not be allowed to work. Another mixture consisting of gingelly, a certain variety of fish, small onions can be given for five days. This helps in improving vigour. Gingelly must be used in small quantities only, otherwise it can raise body temperature </li></ul>
<ul><li>We believe that elephants need more help and understanding from humans during this time. They can be chained but with a chain that is not too short. Leave them stay beside the river, give them food, but change the food from the grass and other foliage to light food such as papaya, watermelon, banana and tamarind to help their digestion. During musth they are easily constipation and, because of the short chain they get no exercise. This contributes to constipation which makes their emotional state much worse. </li></ul>
<ul><li>The pressure in the musth gland creates pressure in the head which is the cause of the anger and aggressiveness. The first person he turns to attack is usually the mahout. In the case of tame elephants in musth, they are tied up during this period, which tends to increase their aggressiveness. Wild elephants roam free while in musth and they are able to rub their heads against a tree and get the oily substance </li></ul>
Brown J.L., Somerville M., Riddle H.S. et al. 2007. Comparative endocrinology of testicular, adrenal and thyroid function in captive Asian and African elephant bulls.General and Comparative Endocrinology 151: 153-162. Abstract: Concentrations of serum testosterone, cortisol, thyroxine (free and total T4), triiodothyronine (free and total T3) and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) were measured to assess adrenal and thyroid function as they relate to testicular activity and musth in captive elephants. Blood samples were collected approximately weekly from Asian (n = 8) and African (n = 12) bulls at seven facilities for periods of 4 months to 9.5 years..
<ul><li>Age ranges at study onset were 8-50 years for Asian and 10-21 years for African elephants. Based on keeper logs, seven Asian and three African bulls exhibited behavioral and/or physical (temporal gland secretion, TGS, or urine dribbling, UD) signs of musth, which lasted 2.8 +/- 2.5 months in duration. Serum testosterone was elevated during musth, with concentrations often exceeding 100 ng/ml. Patterns of testosterone secretion and musth varied among bulls with no evidence of seasonality (P > 0.05). Only three bulls at one facility exhibited classic, well-defined yearly musth cycles. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Others exhibited more irregular cycles, with musth symptoms often occurring more than once a year. A number of bulls (I Asian, 9 African) had consistently low testosterone (< 10 ng/ml) and never exhibited significant TGS or UD. At facilities with multiple bulls (n = 3), testosterone concentrations were highest in the oldest, most dominant male. There were positive correlations between testosterone and cortisol for six of seven Asian and all three African males that exhibited musth (range, r = 0.23-0.52; P < 0.05), but no significant correlations for bulls that did not (P > 0.05). For the three bulls that exhibited yearly musth cycles, TSH was positively correlated (range, r = 0.22-0.28; P < 0.05) and thyroid hormones (T3, T4) were negatively correlated (range, r = -0.25 to -0.47; P < 0.05) to testosterone secretion </li></ul>
<ul><li>In the remaining bulls, there were no clear relationships between thyroid activity and musth status. Overall mean testosterone and cortisol concentrations increased with age for all bulls combined, whereas thyroid activity declined. In summary, a number of bulls did not exhibit musth despite being of adequate physical maturity. Cortisol and testosterone were correlated in most bulls exhibiting musth, indicating a possible role for the adrenal gland in modulating or facilitating downstream responses. Data were generally inconclusive as to a role for thyroid hormones in male reproduction, but the finding of discrete patterns in bulls showing clear testosterone cycles suggests they may facilitate expression or control of musth in some individuals. </li></ul>
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