Modern humans have a pretty poor track record when it comes to our treatment of animals. Too much is hidden behind the smokescreen of tradition, or public need, or idle scientific curiosity.
So we have implanted microchips into monkeys, we have sent dolphins out to die and we have turned our food chain into a horror, driven by the need for cheap meat and profitability and entirely indifferent to the treatment of the animals themselves.
On an individual level, however, we seem to save the really strange stuff for elephants. We have hanged an elephant for reacting violently to her captivity. We have electrocuted an elephant just to see what would happen. The elephant, perhaps unsurprisingly, died.
But strangest of all is what happened to Tusko.
A Star Attraction
The year is 1962, and Tusko the elephant is a star, literally the poster child for Oklahoma zoo in the United States. This Indian elephant, healthy and in his prime, is however about to undergo a strange experiment.
Researchers from the nearby University of Oklahoma have been experimenting with psychoactive drugs. Not in the way that many university students do, to be sure: their interest in this instance was scientific, rather than recreational.
It is the dawn of the 1960s counterculture and such drugs are gaining traction in certain circles. LSD was so new in fact that it would not even be treated as a controlled substance for another decade. Perhaps the students at the U of O were unprepared for LSD to be dangerous.
That is certainly what was suggested by the experiment they tried on Tusko. They were interested in studying the impact of drugs on other species, and an elephant would make a very interesting test subject.
And so, on August 3 1962 Tusko was injected with LSD. We are not joking: a lot of LSD. Perhaps it was his enormous size which led students to increase the dose, but in all he was given 297 mg of the drug.
This is some 3,000 times the normal human dose. The students could have started with a smaller dose, but they decided to give it both barrels and the effects were predictably unfortunate.
Tusko managed to remain standing for another five minutes after the injection before he collapsed to the ground. There he lay, breathing shallowly and unable to stand, as the researchers injected Thorazine in an attempt to revive him. After one hour and forty minutes, he died.
Why did the researchers give him so much? Why did they need to know what happens to an elephant on acid? Such questions are seemingly unimportant, and Tusko’s death is remembered not for advancing human knowledge, but instead as another shameful chapter in human history.
Top Image: Reserachers decided to give Tusko 3,000 doses of LSD to see what would happen. Source: Tamara / Adobe Stock.
By Joseph Green