Question of the Week

What would happen if you Tasered an elephant?

Sun, 13th Dec 2009

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Marie, Harrogate asked:

My question is about Tasers; the Tasers they use for crowd control. What would happen if you Tasered an elephant? Would you live to tell the tale? How strong are these things?


We put this to a real elephant catcher in Africa, Don Grobbler, standing on the top of a sand dune in the wilds of Mozambique when he gave this answer:

ElephantElephants do not like any electric shocks and they will usually react quite severely to them.  We use electric fencing in a number of wildlife reserves in Africa.  The electric fencing running around an enclosure is generally in the region of 9000 to 12,000 volts, whereas a stun gun will put out about 50,000 volts.  Elephants are taught about an electric shock by putting it in a small pen that’s about two acres in size for about 24 to 48 hours.  When they’ve been in contact with an electric fence in that situation, they will never touch an electric fence again.  We also use electric prodders to move elephants into a truck to transport them.  A taser certainly wouldn’t floor an elephant but it might scare it.  And in most cases, the elephant would try to move away from a stun gun but I wouldn’t want to be there if the elephant decided to take some revenge.


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I think if you tasered an elephant with a normal human taser gun, he would feel a slight tingling that would probably just annoy him at best.

His tough hide and very large frame would certainly require a much larger taser gun to have the same effect as a taser on a human. latebind, Tue, 8th Dec 2009

You would have the animal welfare group all over your back  Chemistry4me, Tue, 8th Dec 2009

You would have the animal welfare group all over your back 

Quite right too. Bored chemist, Tue, 8th Dec 2009

not to mention getting chased by the zoo guard geo driver, Wed, 9th Dec 2009

Been done (1903) ...

Thomas Edison's (yes the Thomas Edison) elephant snuff-movie is available ... RD, Wed, 9th Dec 2009

(Here is the video of it in action.) :

I think my Girlfriend has that brand of Taser... So don't mess with her :P Keebler Elf, Thu, 10th Dec 2009

I wouldn't be surprised if this happened

I'd suggest picking on something a little smaller, like a mouse. Don_1, Thu, 10th Dec 2009

As I understand it tasers are not for crowd control, they shoot barbed projectile electrodes. The very high AC voltage at minimal current interacts with and overwhelms the nervous system incapacitating the victim. This leads to extensive loss of motor control, for as long as the voltage is applied - controlled by a trigger on the handset. If the electrodes could penetrate the skin of an elephant I would expect a similar reaction, i.e. applied for long enough it would fall over.

Crowd control use shock sticks or stun guns, the electrodes are fixed to the device and have to be held continuously against the skin to have a similar, but more localised?, effect - these devices have been around for ages, check out electric cattle prods:

Using one of these on an elephant I would guess would have a similar effect as on cattle, but probably resulting in Don_1’s post:

Topsy’s voltage source was much lower than a taser/stun gun and the current much higher. A relatively quick death yes, but extremely painful. I expect her feet were badly burnt.
nixietube, Thu, 10th Dec 2009

No idea. However, I would have thought that it is the current that is the issue not the voltage as usual?

And I suspect the current would be in fact very low, if the resistance of the elephant is very high?

The resistance of the elephant would be expected to be high because of the poor conductivity/high surface area of the elephant?

Taser me if I've got this wildly wrong please. Shibs, Fri, 11th Dec 2009

Tasers work by passing electricity between two electrodes that pierce the skin. This disrupts nerve and muscle activity, leading to temporary stunning. In practical terms, contact between each electrode and the salty extracellular fluid within the tissue enables a current to flow, depolarising nerve and muscle cell membranes to produce pain and collapse.

However, the skin of an elephant weighs (at a guess) over half a tonne; it's incredibly thick and tough. I'm therefore not sure that a puny taser electrode is going to penetrate, let alone dispense a meaningful current!

My guess would therefore be that 1) the taser would struggle to pierce the skin and 2) the input resistance of an elephant's skin would be so high as to render the taser shock little more than a mild irritation.

Chris chris, Fri, 11th Dec 2009

This explanation sounds entirely convincing, and much more plausible than anything I could have dreamt of. The next question is obviously whether anyone has measured the thickness of the dermis of the skin, and whether this answer is different for African or Indian elephants. I don't suggest this, however, for next week's QOTW. Take care and bye for now. Shibs, Fri, 11th Dec 2009

I know of a Rhino that accidentally walked though an electric fence ( not the common cattle kind, but one designed to kill you, not just warn) and was none the worse for it, aside from a very much worsened mood from the shock. He was herded out and made another similar sized hole on the way out.

The elephants learned how to handle the fencing, they dropped two trees across a section to flatten it and walked across the flat wire. When the trees were cleared from near the fence they simply brought them in from the scrubland to flatten it. They were attracted by the green vegetation and lush grass inside.

Elephants have thick skin, but it is very sensitive, especially the feet and trunk. Tasering an elephant is likely the second last thing that you will ever do, as the very annoyed elephant will almost invariably catch you and trample you into a bloody smear on the ground in short order. SeanB, Fri, 11th Dec 2009

But my point was that Tasers work by deploying electrodes that embed themselves into the skin in order to make contant. I suspect that most of an elephant's hide will be too think for a Taser electrode to penetrate, although I have no objective data...! chris, Tue, 15th Dec 2009

Assuming the electrodes penetrated areas where the skin is thin, and penetrated deep enough, how widespread do you anticipate the nerve disruption effect to be? Widespread or localised?

nixietube, Tue, 15th Dec 2009

I think if you were dumb enough to taser an elephant you could only do it if you got close enough to get the inside of it's mouth, and then either it would fall on top of you, and squash you like a turd, or get annoyed and do the same thing. But in my opinion if you did do it,it would have to be in the mouth as it would have the most possibility of effect.(conductivity regarding moisture in that area.. krane aust, Thu, 31st Dec 2009

Using a standard police tazer against an elephant would have no effect. First,their skin is WAY too thick. Second, if you adjusted the tazer barb to somehow penetrate the skin, the energy released would be insufficient to disrupt their large nervous system.

I doubt you would even get their attention. If you managed to get one onto the tongue, by guess is it would amount to little more the a bad taste. On the other hand, I agree with krane, if it tasted bad enough, the elephant might send a message to the chief that would not be to the Chief's advantage. litespeed, Tue, 5th Jan 2010

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