A journey down the Wikipedia elephant-article rabbit-hole, prompted by reader Rob V., left me here.
From the Wikipedia: Tusko
Tusko is a popular name for captive elephants. It is about the least creative thing you could call an elephant besides “Elephanty.” Naming an elephant after one of its most recognizable features is like calling your dog “four-leggo” or your male mallard duck “greeny-head.” Naming your fish “Gil” is still cool, though.
Three elephants named Tusko have managed to overcome the stupidity of their names to achieve great fame, or at least a place on the page dedicated to elephants named Tusko.
The first notable elephant named Tusko was Tusko. Wait, hold on. For the sake of clarity, I will heretofore refer to the three notable elephants named Tusko as “Tusko the Mean,” “Tusko the Now-Tuskless,” and “Tusko in the Sky with Diamonds.”
Tusko the Mean is the earliest example of a famous elephant called Tusko known of by the Wikipedia. Tusko the Mean was known as Ned early in his life, but “Ned the Mean Elephant” doesn’t pop from a circus placard the way Tusko does. Decent band name though.
Tusko the Mean was captured from Siam in 1898, and grew to weigh some 15,000 pounds. That made him about a ton heavier than P.T. Barnum’s Jumbo, and earned him notoriety as the heaviest elephant in captivity. Perhaps it was all the jabs about his weight that finally set him off.
Sometime before 1922, Tusko defeated six bulls in some sort of fight in an arena in Juarez, Mexico. The Wikipedia doesn’t have any details — it’s from the source document — but it sounds like a pretty awful thing to turn a giant, exotic creature into a bullfighter, and also it seems like it’d be pretty hard to convince an elephant to wear those flamboyant bullfighter pants.
In 1922, while on tour through Washington’s Skagit Valley with the Al G. Barnes circus, Tusko the Mean got loose, either because he had been beaten or because he was drunk. He went on an all-night rampage through the town of Sedro-Woolley, destroying some lady’s chicken coop and scaring the bejeezus out of a local doctor.
By 1928, Tusko the Mean had been sold to a Portland, Oreg. amusement park, large parts of which he destroyed during a rampage prompted by a low-flying stunt plane. From there, Tusko the Mean was traded and sold and shipped around in various sideshow acts, and kept docile with whiskey. In 1932, Seattle mayor John Dore, disgusted by the elephant’s condition, confiscated Tusko the Mean and moved him to the Woodland Park Zoo. Finally well cared-for, Tusko the Mean died a year later of a blood clot in his heart.
Tusko in the Sky with Diamonds fell victim to a tragic and stupid science experiment in 1962. Researchers at the University of Oklahoma were interested in musth, a condition unique to male elephants in which their testosterone increases by a factor of 60, they secrete a thick, tar-like substance from glands on the sides of their heads, and they go bats–t crazy and try to destroy everything in sight.
Tusko in the Sky with Diamonds, an elephant at the nearby Oklahoma City Zoo, intrigued the scientists because he had gone on musth in the past. But it was 1962, and science in 1962 apparently amounted to giving test subjects a buttload of acid and seeing what happened. The researchers shot Tusko in the behind with a cartridge-syringe fired from a CO2 powered gun containing enough L.S.D. to get 3,000 people tripping face. The elephant only weighed as much as about 40 people, but the scientists justified giving Tusko in the Sky with Diamonds that much acid because cats and monkeys needed to have a ton of acid before they did anything.
What followed is about the most heartbreaking thing you’ll see in a science journal:
Tusko began trumpeting and rushing around the pen, a reaction not unlike the one he had shown the day before [when injected with a placebo]. However, this time his restlessness appeared to increase for 3 minutes after the injection; then he stopped running and showed signs of marked incoordination. His mate (Judy, a 15-year-old female) approached him and appeared to attempt to support him. He began to sway, his hindquarters buckled, and it became increasingly difficult for him to maintain himself upright. Five minutes after the inection 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…. The mouth was open, but breathing was extremely labored and stertorous, giving the impression of high respiratory obstruction due to laryngeal spasm. The tongue, which had been bitten, was cyanotic.
It continues like that. Tusko died an hour and 40 minutes after receiving a massive dose of LSD from scientists. The scientists concluded that their findings “may prove to be valuable in elephant-control work in Africa.” Right.
Tusko the Tuskless was born around 1971 and is still alive today in a Portland zoo. According to the Wikipedia, Tusko recently endured surgery to remove his tusks due to infection, which must be reasonably humiliating.
Other than that, though, Tusko the Tuskless doesn’t have it all that bad. He is in the Portland zoo for stud work and has sired two calves with one female, with plans to mate with the zoo’s two other female elephants as well. Before coming to Portland, he sired two calves in Canada and one in California. He is the Shawn Kemp of notable elephants named Tusko.
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