There appears to be some discrepancy over the origin of the term “musth”. Some say it is the Hindi word meaning “mischief”, while others say it may be derived from a Persian word meaning “drunk”. After we recently witnessed the behaviour of one bull elephant whilst out on game drive, either definition fits!
Our experienced rangers and trackers are only fully aware of the danger an elephant in musth can present, so when they come across one in the bush they are ever cautious. This was the case on game drive a few days ago when we stumbled across one such elephant. As we watched, the bull started exhibiting erratic behaviour by first rubbing his face and trunk against the tree he had been feeding on. He then came towards the vehicle, ears flapping, with secretions from his temporal gland staining his face like thick tears. Our ranger and tracker team knew exactly how to read the situation, but for a moment it looked like he might charge. As predicted he changed his course and went back to rubbing his trunk on the tree branch.
He resumed feeding, but his curled tail indicated that he was not at all pleased with our presence. He came towards us again, this time staggering sideways, giving him the appearance of a stumbling drunk. We could hear a low frequency rumble- the musth rumble- another indicator he was primed and ready to mate. Clearly his testosterone levels were at a peak. We moved off, leaving him to either find a female or to continue to take out his aggression on the tree.
It was an exciting experience for everyone!
Words and images by Jacquie Gauthier