Of Elephants and Alcohol

Is this elephant dreaming of the delicious marula fruit as she eats grass at a game reserve in South Africa?

Is this elephant dreaming of the delicious marula fruit as she eats grass at a game reserve in South Africa?

I love fruit, but I’d never heard of marula fruit until a friend (Thanks, Anita!) introduced me to Amarula, a creamy liqueur made in Africa from fermented marula fruit.

Elephants like to eat the marula fruit, which when fermented makes a delicious drink when mixed with cream for humans, called Amarula.  Elephants will eat the fermented fruit, but it's a myth that they'll get drunk.  They couldn't eat enough to get inebriated.  The Amarula Trust promotes Africa elephant protection and social development in Africa.  This elephant sculpture is on display at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Fermented marula fruit makes a delicious drink when mixed with cream for humans in a liqueur called Amarula. Elephants will eat the fermented fruit, but it’s a myth that they’ll get drunk. They couldn’t eat enough to get inebriated. The Amarula Trust promotes Africa elephant protection and social development in Africa. This elephant sculpture is on display at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Elephants like to eat marula fruit and are Amarula’s symbol. Folklore through the ages told of elephants getting drunk on fermented marula fruit, but that tall tale has been debunked.  I don’t want to be a party pooper, but elephants couldn’t eat enough fermented fruit to get bombed.  According to a 2006 scientific study cited in Smithsonian Magazine, “Elephants do have a taste for alcohol, but when scientists sat down to look at the claim, they found several problems. First, the elephants don’t eat the rotten fruit off the ground. They eat the fresh fruit right off the tree. Second, the fresh fruit doesn’t spend enough time in the elephant to ferment and produce alcohol there. And, third, even if the elephant did eat the rotten fruit, the animal would have to eat 1,400 pieces of exceptionally fermented fruit to get drunk.”
Smithsonian Magazine: The Alcoholics of the Animal World.

Elephants like to eat marula fruit, but much of what elephants eat is not fully digested.  Here, some marula fruits have passed through an elephant.  The surviving marula fruits might be eaten by other animals or germinate into new trees.

Elephants like to eat marula fruit, but much of what elephants eat is not fully digested. Here, some marula nuts have passed through an elephant. The surviving marula fruits might be eaten by other animals or germinate into new trees.

While the elephants don’t get soused from fermented fruits, elephants are among the many species that enjoy the versatile marula fruit for its flesh and its nut, which is full of protein. The marula fruit and its nut have been important source of nutrition in Africa for eons. The fruit has eight times the Vitamin C of an orange, too. Among the animals that eat the marula fruit and nut are antelopes, including impalas, kudus and nyalas. Baboons, warthogs, zebras, porcupines, vervet monkeys, small mammals and even millipedes also feed on the marula, which belongs to the same plant family Anacardiaceae as the mango, cashew, pistachio and sumac. Browsing animals eat the leaves. Marula nut oil is also supposed to have rejuvenating effect on your skin, so the marula can give you a glow both inside and out. About the Marula Tree and Fruit. About Marula Oil for Your Skin.

While reading this post I recommend an Amarula cocktail, which has a mild creamy citrus flavor. If you can’t find Amarula, you can sip Bailey’s Irish Cream or Kahlua. Drink responsibly, of course!

Amarula.

Amarula.

Here’s My Recipe for a Wild Elephant, which is really a White Russia, replacing the Kahlua with Amarula:
2 oz vodka
1 oz Amarula liqueur
light cream

Pour vodka and Amarula liqueur over ice cubes in an old-fashioned glass. Fill with light cream and serve.
Serves one.
For other recipes. click on Cocktail Recipes. 

In a game reserve in South Africa, baboons congregate in and under a marula tree to eat the marula fruit.  Impala antelope stand under the tree to eat the dropped fruit.

In a game reserve in South Africa, baboons congregate in and under a marula tree to eat the marula fruit. Impala antelope stand under the tree to eat the dropped fruit. Click on the photo to get a better view.

The long-time belief that elephants and other animals get drunk on fermented marula fruit was popularized in the 1974 documentary “Animals are Beautiful People.” Some smaller animals can get drunk from fermented fruit, but people have claimed that the supposedly drunkenness of the animals from fermented marula was staged in the movie, after alcohol had been added to their food.  If so, that’s animal abuse. The narration is over the top, too, but the video does show the types of animals that eat the marula fruit. It also shows elephants shaking marula trees to knock down the fruit.
Scientific American: Do Animals Like to Get Drunk?
Drunken Elephants: The Marula Fruit Myth
About “Animals are Beautiful People.”

The marula fruit on this tree is not quite ripe.  It'll turn yellow.

The marula fruit on this tree will turn yellow when ripe.

Owls don't eat marula fruits, of course, but the branches make a handy perch. And perhaps some unsuspecting creature looking for fruit may become the owl's dinner.

Owls don’t eat marula fruits, of course, but the branches make a handy perch. Perhaps some unsuspecting creature looking for fruit may become the owl’s dinner.

Marula fruit is washed along with sand over a walkway after a rainy night at the South African game reserve lodge where we stayed in January 2013.

Marula fruit is washed along with sand over a walkway after a rainy night at the game reserve lodge where we stayed in January 2013.

I’m going to be party pooper again by listing this new Study from the Boston University School of Public Health that shows links of alcohol to cancer. Darn it!

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6 Comments

Filed under Animals, Drink, Environment, Life, Nature

6 responses to “Of Elephants and Alcohol

  1. What a truly fascinating story Cathy. I’d never heard of marula fruit and who knew those guys were potentially walking around feeling a bit high :-)

    Your photos are pretty amazing too as well and that Wild Elephant is something I’m anxiously looking forward to trying. Thanks.

    Thanks for your comment, Rick. I’d thought Amarula would be hard to find in the U.S., so we brought a bottle back with us. Yesterday, my daughter emailed me a photo of her bottle of Amarula, which she bought in my town more than a year ago. So it’s fairly easy to find if it’s for sale in Kansas City. Cathy

  2. michelle cour

    Very interesting, Cathy. Thanks so much for sharing all your African adventures with us. mc

    Thanks, Michelle. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Hope to see you in person soon. Cathy

  3. Anita

    Nice. I hadn’t seen the Marula tree before. I like the part about the glow inside and out.

    I’m glad you introduced me to Amarula and pointed out the elephant sculpture at the airport. That got me started. Laura emailed me a photo of her bottle of Amarula, which she bought in Kansas City, but I’d never seen it before. Suddenly, marula trees and fruit were everywhere, even in a catalog I got in the mail when we got home, which touted the wonders of marula oil for the skin. Cathy

  4. Your posts are such wonderful romps. Right up to the part where you said, “Drink responsibly.” Why did you have to add that? :)

    Your photographs are incredible. I love the way you see things. I had never heard of the marula fruit. I’ll see if I can try one sometime. And I’m definitely down for that cocktail.

    Once when touring the San Diego Zoo our guide told us how fruit ferments on the ground and the animals eat it up. I think he furthered the myth that animals like to get hammered!

    I think the elephants would like to get hammered, but they couldn’t eat enough fermented marula fruit to get drunk. And, as you saw from my photograph of elephant poop, a lot of fruit just passes through. The poop was my “Eureka!” moment when I thought, “Hey, I can blog about the marula fruit.” Cathy

    Just found this. Many humans seem to get a big kick out of seeing animals drunk or staging them to look drunk. http://www.buzzfeed.com/summeranne/drunkest-animals-on-the-internet

  5. I haven’t heard of this fruit before but enjoyed reading this – although I didn’t open that link at the end.
    Thanks for stopping by, Tammy. The video is pretty interesting (and funny) if you ever have a chance to watch it. Cathy

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