Elephant herd apparently passed out drunk after gulping liquor from village

A herd of 24 elephants were found sound asleep after reportedly drinking water fermented by the intoxicating mahua flower. The sleeping giants were observed at the edge of the Shilipada cashew forest in the Keonjhar district of Oshida, India, surrounded by the broken remains of the brewing kettles.

“We went to the jungle to brew mahua around 6 a.m. and found all the pots were broken and the fermented water was missing,” said Naria Sethi, one of the villagers who prepared the brew PTI. “We also found that the elephants were sleeping. They drank the fermented water and got drunk.”

After unsuccessfully trying to wake the elephants, the villagers called the local forest service, who had to beat drums to wake the animals from their daze.

sleeping elephant
A file photo of a sleeping elephant. The rangers had to use drums to wake the animals.

The Mahua flower is traditionally used in India to make a sweet, alcoholic liquor. The flowers are fermented in clay pots into a spirit with an alcohol content of up to 45 percent.

Katrick Satyanarayan, CEO of Wildlife SOS said news week that cases of elephants drinking the flower liquor have been reported in the past.

“Mahua flowers have high levels of sucrose which elephants enjoy and it is quite natural for them to be drawn to its sweet smell. These flowers are popular with Indian wild elephants as they are a pure, tasty and powerful food source. The smell of fermented mahua travels great distances, and since elephants have a highly developed olfactory system, they can smell it from miles away.”

However, it is debatable whether the animals could ever drink enough of it to actually get drunk.

Lisa Yon, an elephant welfare expert and Associate Professor of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine at the University of Nottingham in the UK, has her doubts. “It’s an interesting report, but to be honest it doesn’t seem very likely that the elephants consumed this liquor and got drunk,” she said news week. “For many years – even as early as the 19th century – there were these anecdotal reports of elephants getting drunk from eating fermented fruit. But there are a few reasons that make it pretty unlikely that this happened.

“First, given their large body size, the elephants would have to consume a lot of fermented fruit, or in this case alcohol, to actually get drunk. Second, elephants are unlikely to select rotten fruit – they prefer to eat fresh.” I would suggest that the elephants would have to have consumed a similarly large amount of alcohol for them to be affected – it doesn’t seem likely.

Satyanarayan repeated these thoughts. “While mahua flowers are sweet in their raw form, the drink has a pungent odor that may not be as appealing to elephants as they are very picky about what they consume. Therefore, it is unlikely that they would become intoxicated from consuming the alcohol and so on. So far, there is no scientific evidence of this.”

In 2006, scientists concluded that tales of drunken elephants are unlikely to be true given the animals’ massive size. They argued that the elephants would have to eat an outrageous amount of fermented fruit to feel even slightly tipsy.

However, a 2020 University of Calgary study suggested that elephants may not be able to metabolize alcohol in the same way as humans, and would therefore require much smaller amounts to get drunk relative to their size will. The 2006 study also referred to African elephants, which are larger than their Asian cousins.

Herd of Indian elephants
A file photo of a herd of Asian elephants. It takes a lot of alcohol to take out a whole herd.

But even if elephants were extremely lightweight, it would take a lot of alcohol to knock out an entire herd.

Ghasiram Patra, one of the rangers who woke the elephants, was unconvinced that the sleeping elephants had passed out from an alcohol-infused killing spree. “Maybe they were just resting there,” he said PTI.

Stories of this nature can unfairly damage elephants’ reputations among villagers, and Yon said it can impact how people treat these animals.

“I suspect the biggest threat to elephants out of all this is that people in the region may be more hostile to or less accepting of elephants around them.”

Do you have an animal or natural story to tell? news week? Do you have a question about elephants? Let us know at nature@newsweek.com.


Janiak MC, et al., Genetic evidence for a widespread variation in mammalian ethanol metabolism: Revisiting the “myth” of natural intoxication, Biology Letters, April 29, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2020.0070

Morris S, Humphreys D and Reynolds D, Mythos, Marula and Elephant: An Assessment of Voluntary Ethanol Intoxication of the African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) After eating the fruit of the Marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea), Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, April 2006

https://www.newsweek.com/newsweek-com-herd-elephants-passed-out-drunk-guzzling-village-liquor-1759558 Elephant herd apparently passed out drunk after gulping liquor from village

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