Merry the elephant! Eating fermented fruit gets elephants DRUNK – but tiny shrews and koalas can hold their alcohol, study finds
- Canadian scientists discovered elephant’s lack genetic mutation called A294 V
- This is present in humans and other species and allows for processing of alcohol
- Ends a long-standing debate as to whether elephants get drunk on fallen fruit
African elephants can get drunk by eating the rotting fruit of the marula tree – a favoured snack of the world’s heaviest land animal – according to a team of Canadian researchers.
The terrestrial giants lack a genetic mutation that allows them to process alcohol which is seen in other animals, including humans, koalas, shrews and some bat species.
As a result, the penchant of African elephants for the fermenting manula fruit, which is used to make beer, causes them to get drunk quickly.
Debate over whether elephants actually get drunk has long raged among scientists, with some accusing proponents of the theory of ‘humanising’ the animals.
But a study of elephant genes has found the underlying genetic key, which reveals elephants simply cannot hold their alcohol.
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The penchant of African elephants for the fermenting manula fruit, which is used to make beer, causes them to get drunk quickly, according to a team of Canadian researchers
The gene in question is called A294 V and allows humans and other great apes to process alcohol quickly.
Its presence in other species has been linked to a high tolerance to alcohol.
The unassuming pen-tailed treeshrew, for example, consumes fermented nectar that contains enough ethanol [alcohol] to intoxicate a human.
But despite being just 4inches (10cm) long and weighing just 0.07 per cent of an average human, it ‘shows no signs of inebriation,’ researchers said.
Egyptian fruit bats were found to be lightweights when it comes to drinking, getting drunk on alcohol as weak as one per cent.
While ‘leaf-nosed’ bats, also called Phylostomid bats, found in North and South America, are not affected by alcohol.
African elephants can get drunk by eating the rotting fruit of the marula tree (pictured), a favoured snack of the world’s heaviest land animal. The terrestrial giants lack a genetic mutation that allows them to process alcohol
Elks in Sweden have also been found to show signs of drunkenness from eating just a few rotten apples which have begun fermenting.
According to folklore, African elephants across Africa love to feed on the fallen fermented fruit of the marula tree, which is used to make beer.
Previous research has backed up the rebuttal. For example, Professor Steve Morris and colleagues from the University of Bristol calculated that an elephant would need to drink 27 litres (47 pints) of fermented fruit sap at seven per cent strength to show drunken behaviour.
They suggested the elephants would have to eat vast amounts of the fallen fruit as each one would be unlikely to reach more than three per cent alcohol content from fermenting on the ground.
Canadian researchers writing in a study published in Biology Letters, now believe the folk tales may be correct after all.
Human alcohol tolerance comes about from evolutionary changes, but in other animals the ability to drink alcohol is not well understood.
The researchers said elephants lack of A294 V is behind the drunkenness.
They said this suggests that ‘conclusions about the amount of ethanol required to produce symptoms of inebriation in an African elephant were likely erroneous and the myth of inebriation may well be substantiated’.