Hormones turn Groucho, the Peyton Manning of Denver Zoo elephants, into Richard Sherman
Groucho is usually the Peyton Manning of elephants, "a perfect gentleman," says Denver Zoo large animal curator Dale Leeds. In his view, "Groucho is a mature male with self-confidence," not unlike the Broncos's seasoned quarterback. "Peyton Manning doesn't have to get on TV, scream and shout about how great he is, scream and shout about how everybody else is bad. He knows he's good. He doesn't have to sell it."
But when Groucho is in musth -- as he was from late August until very recently -- it's a different story.
What is musth? In our 2009 story about the Denver Zoo's new elephant exhibit, we described it as "a very special time in a male elephant's life, a time worthy of its own young-adult novel, something with a title like Are You There, God? It's Me, Ranchipur."
Musth is characterized by elevated hormone levels, heightened sexual interest and aggressive activity. It can last anywhere from a few days to several months. During musth, the glands on either side of a bull elephant's head leak fluid, his penis dribbles urine and, Leeds says, "the penis and sheath get a green tinge to it" -- sometimes known as green weenie. Musth bulls also emit a smell that Leeds describes as "bad musk cologne from the '70s. Strong, pungent -- it smells like testosterone."
We imagine it to be something like this:
At 43 years old, Groucho is the oldest of the Denver Zoo's three male elephants. He was born in the wild and arrived at the Bronx Zoo in New York in 1973. In 1986, he moved to the Fort Worth Zoo in Texas and in 2012, he arrived in Denver. Though the Denver Zoo doesn't know why he was named Groucho -- he isn't grouchy, staff insist -- they suspect it was a tribute to comedian Groucho Marx, who famously told a joke about an elephant:
The zoo also has two younger bull elephants, nine-year-old Bodhi and six-year-old Billy. The zoo's $50 million elephant exhibit, Toyota Elephant Passage, opened in 2011 with the capacity for twelve elephants, eight of which could be male. That makes the exhibit unique; most zoos keep a majority of female elephants because they're smaller and easier to handle. (The Denver Zoo also has two lady elephants, Dolly and Kimbo.) The boys -- because of their size and, of course, their musth -- can be trickier.
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