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

Share
Related Topics

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

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: A huge step forward in medical science, but we're not all the way there yet

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past