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From LSD to a public hanging...three cruel and unusual elephant deaths

Elephants have suffered at the hands of humans in more ways than one

In 1916, Sparks World Famous Shows was looking for a way to compete with other circuses to make them stand out. They were known primarily for their elephants, and of all their elephants, Mary was the showstopper of the team. According to Sparks, she was the biggest elephant on the planet – and worth a huge $20,000.

She needed a new trainer though, and although the only candidate who turned up was Red Eldridge, a drifter whose last job was as a janitor – they hired him anyway. After a day’s training, Eldridge became annoyed at Mary and hooked her ear to force her to move, whereupon Mary lost her temper and threw him against a drink stand, killing him.

Mary was put on trial, and found guilty and sentenced to death. Several men took it upon themselves to do the deed, so they took her outside and shot at her, repeatedly. But her hide proved too thick for their bullets, so they looked to find another way to kill her. The town discussed how best to execute her, one man suggested crushing her between two engines, another suggested dismembering her between two trains going in opposite directions – but ultimately, these were decided to be too cruel and – incredibly – the town decided to hang her instead. From a giant crane.

Upset at losing his star attraction, Sparks turned Mary’s execution into a publicity stunt for his circus. On the day, 2,500 people turned up to see her strung up to a crane to die. However, it was badly thought through and on the first attempt, the chain snapped and Mary fell to the ground and broke her hip. Eventually they found a chain strong enough to hold her weight after half an hour of hanging, she was declared dead and the assembled audiences all dutifully trooped inside to watch Sparks’ show.

Click here to find out more about our Elephant appeal Christmas campaign.

For  an elephant, how much LSD is too much?

What happens if you give an elephant LSD? On Friday August 3, 1962, a group of Oklahoma City researchers decided to find out. 

In the height of the fascination with psychotropic drugs in the 1960s, a group of scientists from Oklahoma decided that the best use of their time, education and interests would be to dose up an elephant with LSD.

Their justification came from their interest in ‘musth’ – a temporary madness that male elephants are occasionally prone to. It seems they thought, in a remarkable display of tenuous logic, that LSD creates a sort of madness, so perhaps it could create ‘musth’ in Elephants.

They enlisted the help of a local zookeeper, who volunteered Tusko, a 3,200kg male elephant for the job. However – exactly how much acid should one give an elephant? Unsurprisingly, it’s not an exact science, but the scientists believed that elephants would prove resistant to the LSD, so they decided to up the dosage, significantly. They gave Tusko 297mg of LSD – enough to make nearly 3,000 people experience hours of ‘marked mental disturbance’ – which they shot into his thigh in a rifle powered dart.

Predictably, perhaps, Tusko didn’t respond well. However, quite how badly he reacted was a shock to everyone involved. He stormed around the pen for about five minutes, before collapsing. The report at the time describes his pain vividly: ‘"Five minutes after the injection he trumpeted, collapsed, fell heavily onto his right side, defecated, and went into status epilepticus. The limbs on the left side were hyperextended and held stiffly out from the body; the limbs on the right side were drawn up in partial flexion; there were tremors throughout.’

One hour and forty minutes later, Tusko was dead.

It would be nice to say that Tusko didn’t die in vain, but the experiment was bungled so badly by the scientist’s decision to dose the poor creature with more than 30x the sensible amount. However, the scientists ignored this and chose to sheepishly –and optimistically- conclude instead, "It appears that the elephant is highly sensitive to the effects of LSD - a finding which may prove to be valuable in elephant-control work in Africa."


Current of cruelty runs through Thomas Edison

In the early 20 century, Thomas Edison was living comfortably off the royalties of direct current which had been set as the standard for electricity distribution, until Tesla’s new alternating current appeared.

Edison decided to stage a smear campaign against Tesla and Westinghouse, and it took the rather macabre form of a series of animal electrocutions using AC – although he tried to popularise the term ‘westinghoused’ for electrocuted. He mostly used stray dogs or cats, but also killed cattle and horses if he could get his hands on them .

However, a spectacular opportunity presented itself to Edison as he heard about an elephant, Topsy, who had been sentenced to death for killing three handlers in three years (including one who tried to feed her lit cigarettes).

He persuaded the authorities to let him have the elephant, and on the day, Topsy was restrained and fed carrots laced with cyanide before a 6,600 vote AC charge slam through her body. 1,500 people witnessed Topsy’s execution, which was filmed by Edison.

You can read more about our Christmas campaign to  stop elephant poaching here