November 30, -0001
February 1, 2019
See link for photos.
The swaggering, the aggression, the attitude…headstrong teenagers can be scary. Even more so when they’re eight feet tall and weigh six tonnes.
When Gus Van Dyk was an ecologist at Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa, he was worried by a series of attacks on the park’s rhino.
This out of control gang of elephants, between 15 and 18, appeared to be in “musth”. This is a unique state to elephants, in which young males, usually in their 20s, are flooded with reproductive hormones.
The scary part is as well as the urge to mate going into overdrive, the males become very aggressive to the extent that two males in musth will fight to the death, tipping each other over so they can stab their victim with their tusks.
The normal safeguard is when an elephant in musth encounters a bigger bull elephant, he immediately drops out of musth as he knows his testosterone cannot compete.
These were late adolescent elephants, though, without the experience of operating as a male in a large social group.
Van Dyk realised that musth was the key to stopping this delinquent gang, so the decision was to either control it artificially, castrate the young males or go back to basics and find a natural solution. The answer, he felt, was to put a natural stopper on the musth by introducing big bull elephants.
He was right. Six large bulls were introduced from Kruger National Park, who towered over the adolescents, and literally within hours, the teen thugs had dropped out of musth.
This musth story was used in an American academic paper as an example in human adolescence of the importance of a stable society and a father figure to provide boundaries for teen males.