By Rachel Feltman
Can we please talk about the elephant in the room? His name is Tusko, and he’s on a lot of acid.
So, it’s 1962 and an elephant named Tusko is “the prize of Oklahoma City Zoo.” He’s 14, in his prime, a robust specimen weighing more than 3 tons, and scientists at the University of Oklahoma decide to shoot him up with LSD.
Why give an elephant a hallucinogenic drug? The researchers were ostensibly trying to incite a state called musth: a period of intense aggression in bull elephants where testosterone spikes. It’s likely connected to mating, but scientists didn’t know a ton about how it worked or what triggered it, let alone how to stop it. That posed a problem in zoos, where male elephants who were usually great with humans could suddenly turn dangerously violent. If sending a young elephant on a wild trip produced similar behavior, the researchers reasoned, they and their colleagues could use acid (which was still legal at the time) to create experimental scenarios aimed at controlling musth itself.
But instead of inducing rage or violence, the drugs led Tusko to collapse and start seizing after just five minutes. About 20 minutes later the researchers gave him a potent anti-psychotic, which did nothing to help, and then they tranquilized him. He died shortly thereafter.