Elephants are the only animals to have a temporal gland. When this gland becomes active the elephant enters a state of behaviour known as ‘musth’.
In the languages of northern India, musth (originally a Persian word) means a state of drunkenness, hilarity, ecstasy, desire or lust. Both sexes have musth glands, but in the Asian elephant only males experience this period of excitation. In wild herds, only one male at a time goes into musth.
Musth usually occurs periodically, either annually or twice per year. Captive and wild Asian elephants are much more aggressive than normal during musth. Working elephants become less obedient and respectful to their mahouts and harder to control. It is not unusual for the elephant to reverse the dominant role of its master, and it is not unheard of for an elephant to kill its mahout during musth.
Captive elephants must be kept alone and chained throughout the musth period to prevent accidents. It is dangerous to keep them working at this time. The mahout must be able to recognise the onset of musth in an animal. Even if an elephant was trained correctly during its youth, before musth begins, the mahout must still be able to face the challenge of controlling the animal during musth in adulthood.