Last month, Spain’s king Juan Carlos was roundly condemned when people found out his his so-called “vacation” in Botswana had in fact been a secret elephant-hunting trip. Back in the sixties, however, killing an elephant didn’t have to be such a covert operation – all you had to do was justify it in the name of science.
To be fair: the two researchers responsible hadn’t meant to kill elephant Tusko, when they injected 297 milligrams of LSD (about 3000 times the level of a typical human dose) into his veins. They later explained that the experiment was designed to find out if LSD would induce musth- a temporary madness, characterized by highly aggressive behavior and a large rise in reproductive hormones, that male elephants sometimes experience. The experiment backfired, however. Only seconds after Tusko had received the shot, the elephant started trumpeting around the pen, after which he keeled over and died. The researchers tried to revive Tusko by administering another drug as an antidote, but it was already too late. Stating the obvious, they concluded that “It appears that the elephant is highly sensitive to the effects of LSD.”
Don’t forget to blame the drugs
Both the researchers and the director of the Oklahoma Zoo, who had given his consent for the experiment and was also co-author of the study, faced public outcry when the incident became public. In an attempt to save face, the psychiatrists suggested that now at least it was clear that the drug could be used to destroy herds in countries where they cause a problem. And although Tusko had obviously been given a ridiculous amount of LSD, this didn’t stop the psychiatrists from pointing out the lethal dangers of LSD use in their paper. “The death of Tusko suggests the nature of danger, and the most likely cause of death should a lethal overdose be taken by a human. […]The possibility of suicide or even homicide by LSD cannot be ignored,” they conclude in their study.
Read (non open access) study
West, L., Pierce, C., & Thomas, W. (1962). Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: Its Effects on a Male Asiatic Elephant Science, 138 (3545), 1100-1103 DOI: 10.1126/science.138.3545.1100