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Party animals

David Wilson

Contrary to what Walt Disney wanted you to think, animals get up to all kinds of antics rarely explored in cute cartoons. Animals fight, indulge in everyday cannibalism, sexual cannibalism, gay sex, incest — you name it. And they like a drink.

It's not just pond water or puddles, either, but the hard stuff: fermented juice or whatever brew that Mother Nature serves in happy hour mood. In fact, whatever Scientific American says, animals love grog.

Meet a ragtag gang of animals liable to get drunk as a skunk at the first whiff of nectar.

Bear binge

A bear famously featured in a British 1980s Hofmeister beer advert, with good reason. In 2004 CNN reported a black bear blacked out at a Washington state campground after guzzling three dozen — yes 36 — tinnies. The bear, which was underage (about two) opened campers' eskies and prised cans open with its claws and teeth.

Despite its greed and youth, the thief from the forest had class. After sampling a mass-market amber nectar brand, it graduated to a local upmarket ale, Rainier Beer, before wildlife agents chased it off. Next day, the bear came back for more. So, the agents baited a trap with doughnuts, honey and ... two cans of Rainier Beer. The honey trap worked. The bear was captured for relocation — and, ideally, rehab.

Mammoth blunder

At the best of times, despite their plodding air, elephants are complicated and can be volatile. So, when they get squiffy, things get messy. Just look what happened in Assam, eastern India in 2007.

According to the AP, a herd of Asiatic wild elephants converged on a village, hunting food. Some found rice beer, which farmers ferment and keep in plastic and tin drums in their huts. The party set then ran amok, uprooting a power line pole. Six were electrocuted.

The horror story underlined how area elephants had alcohol issues. Three years earlier, four others died in similar circumstances.

Hitchcock high

Pelicans are built for drinking. Their beak pouches hold up to 11 litres of water — a big problem when the water they drink has a kick. Rewind to June 2006 when a pelican struck the windscreen of a car on the Pacific Coast Highway in California's Orange County.

"The driver was sober," AP reported. "The bird he hit may have been under the influence." Scientists blamed its downfall on a chemical in the water called domoic acid.

The acid trip theory made sense for three reasons. First, pelicans have keen eyesight. Second, over the week in which the accident happened, wildlife officials received 16 reports of weird bird behaviour, and were holding three other birds found roaming yards and streets in a dazed state.

Third, domoic acid intoxication was the likely cause of another California seabird invasion in 1961. Then, thousands of frantic, befuddled birds rained down, slamming into buildings and even pecking eight humans. The blitz inspired the Alfred Hitchcock thriller The Birds.

Tiny tot

Malaysia's pen-tailed tree shrew has an adorable baby-doll look. Do not be fooled. The minute mammal puts its snout to dubious use, consuming copious amounts of fermented nectar from the bertam palm plant. By nature's standards, the booze is highly potent — as strong as beer. Yet the shrew drinks like a machine.

"These animals are doing that around the clock and all year round. That's pretty unique," University of Western Ontario microbiologist Dr Marc-André Lachance told MSNBC.

The nectar-necking shrews may well be nature's biggest lushes. They may even exceed those flying rodents rumoured to be blind in more ways than one: bats. What's more, the shrews handle the intake without impairment. How is one of science's great mysteries. Hardcore.

Snatch squad

"Drunken monkey" is a kung-fu style that obliges the practitioner to mimic an intoxicated monkey's gestures. For case study inspiration, devotees need look no farther than the Caribbean island of St Kitts. There, vervet monkeys brought along for the ride three centuries ago by West African rum industry slaves, acquired a taste for alcohol by eating fermented sugar cane left in the fields.

Now, the monkeys quench their thirst by raiding bars and stealing beachgoers' cocktails. Like humans, most of the troupe drinks in moderation. But again, like humans, five percent drink to the last drop then roll around, knocking over tables and tussling. Wasters.

Screaming drunk

Bats have a bad reputation. Aside from shrieking, delivering rabies-laced vampire bites and pooping everywhere, they have a drink problem, it appears. True, aside from the odd video of an outwardly paralytic bat that could just be tired, scant evidence for that smear exists in the public domain. But rumours fly. And science says that bats are partial to a sweet snack to combat the hangover blues.

Anyway, it stands to reason that fruit bats, which is most bats, munch heaps of fermenting matter and wind up getting wasted (doubtless, bat sonar arose because of double-vision navigation issues). Next time you see a bat flying over Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens, check if it zigzags.

User comments
Check Wikipedia for the movie "Animals Are Beautiful People".
African Elephants get drunk off the Marula tree berries that fall on the floor and ferment. In our village in SA, it was known as the Elephant Tree because when the elephants regularly came past for their fix, it was the funniest result.
i can not see any difference between a 'human' drunk and a 'animal drunk' can you?

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