Pie-Eyed Elephants and Other "Substance Abusers"

Pie—Eyed Elephants and Other “Substance Abusers”

Addiction to controlled substances is rare among nonhumans, but it does occasionally occur. Birds, such as the sapsucker, that subsist on the sap of trees will often find themselves too drunk to fly right, and fruit—eating birds such as thrushes have also been observed staggering about in a stuporous condition. This happens when the bird imbibes plant juice that has fermented, or feasts on overripe fruit and berries. Birds who fly under the influence frequently wind up as a meal for a hungry, cold—sober predator.

Large mammals of Africa have been filmed after they gorged themselves on overripe fallen fruits. Antelopes observed lurching and zigzagging, bleary—eyed, show all the familiar signs of being drunk. A tipsy ostrich is a sight to behold, crossing its legs as it walks, stumbling and tottering, with its long neck wobbling after a meal of alcoholic fruits. These drunken sprees are not actually addictive, even though the participants in such wildlife bacchanalia return to the place where they found the liquored—up food until it's all gone.

Catnip has often been considered an intoxicant or stimulant for cats. Cats are fascinated not by the taste but by the odor, so catnip toys are as effective as the plant itself. A mild nerve stimulant, catnip produces a \“high\” feeling and does little more than stimulate valuable exercise for lazy and bored cats. Rather than being habit forming, it serves as a vitamin pill for cats that engage in nothing more strenuous than changing positions during naps.

Less harmless is the locoweed, a weedy legume of the bean family native to western North America. It causes a type of poisoning called locoism in livestock animals, including horses, cattle, sheep, and goats. Although the animal must consume large quantities of the plant to be poisoned, this happens easily because once the animal starts eating locoweed it develops a preference for the plant. Signs of poisoning are loss of weight, irregular gait, loss of muscular control and sense of direction, and violent reactions when disturbed. There being no effective treatment for locoweed poisoning, killing off locoweeds or keeping animals off ranges where locoweeds occur are the only preventives of this addictive, usually fatal, condition.

Elephants are not immune to intoxication from overripe fruits, and a tipsy elephant is a sight not soon forgotten. In India the wild elephants have discovered a substitute for seasonal fruit binges: beer. Residents of small villages find that turning their crops into beer is financially quite rewarding. The problem, of course, is that elephants from the nearby forests pay regular visits in search of brewing barrels of beer. The owner of the brew wisely allows them to drink a barrel or two without interfering. But in 1991, the elephants went too far.

Beer was mass—produced in a small village in central India, where the residents had become quite proficient in beer—making and brewing was the livelihood for many families. In spring 1991 a fair was scheduled in a nearby city where the villagers planned to market their product. The smell of the fermenting beer was too much for a passing herd of elephants. They stormed the village, knocking over anything in their paths as their nostrils led them to the many barrels of beer. By the time they were finished they had drunk every barrel of beer in sight. They were quite intoxicated, and the villagers were able to drive them off with torches.

For the remainder of the night the unsteady trumpeting of the elephants echoed through the forest as the pixilated herd acted out their binge. They slept off their elephant—sized hangovers the next day. Later the village headman related, “You don't know what trouble is until you've been surrounded by 25 drunken elephants.” The elephants remembered only the good time they had drinking and returned in less than two weeks for a repeat performance; they were quite perturbed that no beer was to be found. The villagers, safely hidden, were much relieved to see them stagger off; not surprisingly, beer brewing is no longer the occupation of choice in this village.

Near the Queen Elizabeth Reserve in Uganda, Africa, a group of natives had finished making several barrels of beer in preparation for a festival the next day. Just as they were storing the brew, four old elephants grazing nearby got a whiff of their favorite beverage. They decided to start the celebration immediately and charged onto the scene. The brewmasters fled as the elephants began to tank up. After the barrels were empty, the elephants went on a drunken rampage, chasing everyone in sight, overturning cars, uprooting gardens, and tearing down native houses. They finally retreated into the jungle, but throughout the night and into the next day their muffled groans and trumpeting rang through the village. Their hangovers were some comfort to the villagers, who had canceled their own celebration.


From the book: 
Petrified Lightning