musth n : an annual phase of heightened sexual excitement in the males of certain large mammals (especially elephants); is associated with discharge from a gland between the eye and ear; "the frenzied elephant was in musth"
- A time during which male elephants exhibit increased levels of sexual activity and aggressiveness.
Musth (or, alternately spelled, must) is a periodic condition in bull elephants, characterized by a thick, tar-like secretion called temporin from the temporal ducts and, far more notably, by highly aggressive behaviour. It is accompanied by a significant rise in reproductive hormones - testosterone levels in an elephant in musth can be as much as 60 times greater than in the same elephant at other times. However, whether this hormonal surge is the sole cause of musth, or merely a contributing factor, is unknown: scientific investigation of musth is greatly hindered by the fact that, once under the influence of musth, even the most otherwise placid of elephants may actively try to kill any and all humans. Similarly, the tar-like secretion remains largely uncharacterised, due to the difficulties of collecting samples for analysis; however, secretions and urine collected from zoo elephants have been shown to contain elevated levels of various highly odorous ketones and aldehydes.
Although it has often been speculated that musth is linked to rut, this is unlikely because the female elephant's estrus cycle is not seasonally-linked, whereas musth most often takes place in winter. Furthermore, bulls in musth have often been known to attack female elephants, regardless of whether or not the females are in heat. Connections to dominance behaviour have also been speculated.
Mahouts are often able to greatly shorten the duration of their elephants' musth: this is accomplished by tying the bull to two extremely strong trees, and keeping him on a starvation diet until the musth ends, typically after 5 to 7 days; xylazine is also used. It should be noted that, as mahouts work with Asian elephants, the starvation technique has not been tried on African elephants.
The word is derived from 'مست' (pronounced mast) in Persian which means 'intoxicated' in general, or more specifically 'in heat" as in 'پيل مست' meaning 'sexually excited elephant'.
musth in German: Musth