There is a popular notion that elephants and other creatures get themselves drunk by eating the fermented fruit of the marula tree, but it is a complete myth created by the South African filmmaker, Jamie Uys.
Uys was born in Boksburg, SA, in 1921 and began his career as a mathematics teacher in his hometown. Then he married Hettie, a fellow maths teacher, and they took to farming and opened trading posts on the Palala River.
He made his debut as a film director in 1951 with the Afrikaans-language film Daar Doer in die Bosveld (Far Away in the Bushveld) and went on to make 24 films, many of them comedies.
The best known of Uys’ films is The Gods Must Be Crazy about a Coca-Cola bottle thrown from an aeroplane that lands in the Kalahari Desert and is found by a member of the San tribe. This modern anachronism causes trouble for the tribe and has to be returned to the gods from where it came.
Another well-known Uys film was Funny People from 1977, a Candid Camera-style production which put unsuspecting people in embarrassing situations. These included a talking postbox, with the voice of a man claiming to be trapped inside, who asks passersby for help.
Despite his success, Uys lived quite a simple life when away from his home in Johannesburg with a house at Paradise Beach on the Eastern Cape where he pursued his interest in botany and model aeroplanes.
This stems from his 1974 film Animals Are Beautiful People which purports to show elephants, baboons, warthogs and giraffes intoxicated after eating fermented fruit.
This was almost certainly staged for the camera. Many animals do indeed like to eat the fruit of the marula and elephants will shake the trees so that it falls, but it never stays on the ground long enough to ferment, even if elephants liked to eat rotten fruit, which they don’t.
A study by the University of Bristol calculated that even if that were the case, each elephant would have to eat 1,500 marula fruit at one go to get the slightest bit tipsy.
But the myth suited Uys the filmmaker and below is the clip from Animals Are Beautiful People where it all began.