It is not unusual for male Asian elephants to be in a period of heightened hormonal activity called musth. This is a time in a male’s life where he has lots of testosterone coursing through his body, and it really affects his mood and personality. This period can last from 2 to 12 months.
Ranchipur usually comes into musth around the end of July to the beginning of August. He first arrived at the Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey from our Safari Park in April 2009. He was quick to explore all of our yards and pools. Ranchipur showed signs of his first musth here at the end of July that year, and it lasted for about two months, but he continued to cooperate with the keepers, and we were able to care for him as we do for all of our elephants.
In 2010, for some reason, he did not come into musth. This was too bad, because we were hoping for the weight loss that usually accompanies musth. At one point he actually tipped the scale at almost 12,980 pounds (5,900 kilograms). That is too much to weigh for a 45-year-old elephant who has some hip problems. After his previous musth, he had lost almost 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms).
Since he didn’t come into musth, we had to try something else to get the weight off. He usually spent the nights with one of the females, but he also ate all of her food! We decided to start separating them at night to make sure each ate his or her own diet. Over the next several months Ranchipur did start to lose weight but was still pretty heavy. On July 28, 2011, he started to give off that familiar smell that is associated with musth. Then the tell-tale signs occurred: he started dribbling urine and secreting a foul-smelling substance from the temporal glands on each side of his head. At this point it was all we could do to transfer him between his exhibit and the one next door for cleaning. His appetite decreased to nothing, and he basically stared at the girls all day.
One day we decided to put our African elephant, Tembo, next to him to see his reaction. Usually he is scared of her and runs away. On this day he did turn and run, but then he dashed back. The two of them sparred for awhile, and then Tembo left. Ranchi was no longer afraid of her; in fact, he was quite interested in her. Off and on for the next three months we would put Tembo next to him, and he was right there to see her, but she ignored him. On October 21, we noticed that he was no longer dribbling urine or secreting from his temporal glands. Could his musth be over? To make sure, we put Tembo next to him, and, as before, he turned and ran from her. What happens during musth must stay in musth, because he doesn’t remember a thing!
Ranchipur is slowly coming back into his normal routine, and we were able to get a weight on him. He had lost 490 kilograms from his last weight in June. That is almost 1,000 pounds! He now weighs just a bit over 11,000 pounds (500 kilograms), which is a nice weight for him.
Ron Ringer is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Zoo Elephants: Queen Mary.