Ozzie the Unstoppable Elephant

Mike tries to put Ozzie in his place in 2014. Photograph courtesy of Caitlin O'Connell and Timothy Rodwell.

No one informed Ozzie that he’s too young to go into musth. Somehow the dynamics of Mushara’s male elephant society over the past few years have allowed this young bull’s testosterone spikes to slip through the cracks unsuppressed, resulting in an unholy terror. Ozzie in musth has been unstoppable.

In contrast to the magnificent Smokey who behaves like any self-respecting dominant musth bull should—being kindly to curious young males who appear in awe of his status, while keeping a firm grip on the competition—Ozzie defies nature. So far, I have only witnessed one challenge to Smokey’s musth status, nine seasons ago now, during a wet year with lots of competition. The musth bull, #108 as he was documented at the time, lost the contest, never to be seen again. As far as we’ve experienced, no nonmusth bull has ever tried to confront Smokey—they know the drill—testosterone trumps all (with one character acceptation being Greg who appeared to suppress others from going into musth, possibly even forcing the third-ranking Kevin out of musth).

In contrast, many of the older bulls in the population have tried to put the young musth-ridden Ozzie in his place, but to no effect. When they see the elephantine locomotive coming at them, it’s as if they take a step back and train their gaze on this anomaly and ask, “Really? Is this pipsqueak for real?”

They’d touch their trunk to their mouths in a gesture of uncertainty, and then they’d approach Ozzie with unease, ears folded, trunk outstretched as if to keep him at a distance from which they could safely assess the situation and confirm their original hunch. “Son, we don’t allow such behavior here.” They’d wrap trunks and try to thrust Ozzie’s weight backward with a touch of violence, as if to say, “you’re liable to get —> Read More