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Jun 12, 2020

Who’d Have Thought It? Elephants Are Lightweights as Boozers

Not so for tree shrews, who can hold their liquor and know their sports stories

By Ed Goldman

Do you suppose when a drunk elephant hallucinates it sees pink people?

I raise the question because a new report indicates that among all creatures large and small, elephants can’t really drink the other ones under the table (or under the water table if we’re talking splash-happy hippos). Despite their size and penchant for peanuts, which bars serve to whet one’s alcohol consumption, elephants “really can’t handle their liquor.” This is detailed in a story in the New York Times, which in turn was reporting on a study that appeared in the April issue of “Biology Letters,” a highly regarded science journal I keep meaning to subscribe to.

Elephants are not alone among critters that get drunk easily, by the way. “Birds that gorge on fermented berries and sap are known to fall out of trees and crash into windows,” the article says, adding, “Elk that overdo it with rotting apples get stuck in trees.” 

Not to be outdone, “Moose wasted on overripe crabapples get tangled in swing sets, hammocks and even Christmas lights.” At this point, many of us may be asking who invited the moose to the backyard barbecue or tree trimming party, and couldn’t they foresee this wouldn’t end well? If you have over a brother-in-law or great-aunt with a tendency to tipple, aren’t you going to keep an eye on them for the duration of their visit—or, to be blunt, why wasn’t anyone monitoring the moose?

The Times reports that some results of the alcohol-and-animals research “were unexpected. Tree shrews, for example, drink ‘copious amounts’ of fermented nectar with (an) ethanol content equivalent to weak beer” yet they never show signs of inebriation.” Shrews are said to also be good raconteurs who keep up with soccer, know their baseball stats and follow Tom Brady.

Well, it isn’t all Schlitz and giggles.  

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If you’re an animal lover, as I am, you probably don’t laugh at footage of dogs who become inflated like Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons because they eat uncooked bread dough or, as it’s also called, dough. Well, maybe you do laugh, as I do, but at least we have the decency to inquire afterward, “Are the dogs okay now?” (If we still say that when there’s no one around who saw us laugh, we may want to seek counseling.)

I mention this because there’s a tragic side to this booze-and-beast story. Just 46 years ago, “a herd of elephants in West Bengal, India, became intoxicated after breaking into a brewery, then went on a rampage that destroyed buildings and killed five people.” (As we went to press, still no word on whether the brewery made light beers or Porters. I’d be happy to check if someone would give me a research grant.)

Back to the story: “One scientific paper describes elephant trainers rewarding animals with beer and other alcoholic beverages, with one elephant in the 18th century said to have drunk 30 bottles of port a day.” This, of course, begs the anthropological query, “And what kind of cigars did they smoke to accompany them?”

Finally if you’re one of our business-sector readers and you’ve made it all the way to the word “Finally,” your perseverance is about to be rewarded. 

Though apparently having nothing to do with the recent study on what sloppy dates elephants make, the chain of restaurants called The Elephant Bar—which once had 25 locations, most of them in California but also in Nevada and New Mexico—filed for bankruptcy six years ago and shuttered 16 of its eateries. Two years ago, having been bought out by Gen3 Hospitality, that number plummeted to seven.

Question: Did the former owners know that this study was about to be published? Did they think the restaurant’s name, Elephant Bar, would become laughable, along the lines of opening a gym called Mike Pompeo Fitness Studio or an auto dealership called Lemon Motors? If they knew the study was being done and therefore attempted to cut their losses, isn’t this tantamount to insider training?

Just asking as I rehearse my Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Journalism acceptance speech. I’ll admit, I’m not very good at memorizing. At times like this, I wish I had the memory of an—well, you know.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).