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An elephant, a psychiatrist, and one bad acid trip at the OKC Zoo

Andrew W. Griffin
This sign, at the Oklahoma City Zoo, promotes Judy the Elephant, the first elephant at the zoo. There is no mention of Tusko.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – It was back in April when an Asian elephant at the Oklahoma City Zoo named “Asha,”  gave birth to a female elephant ultimately named “Malee.” This birth came right in tandem with the opening of the Zoo’s new elephant habitat which has been a major draw at the zoo.

And while there has been a lot of excitement and fanfare connected with the habitat and the arrival of Malee, there was an elephant at the then-called Oklahoma City’s Lincoln Park Zoo five decades ago named Tusko. It was this creature, who, on this very day in August 1962, was inexplicably used in a dangerous drug experiment and died as a result of what can only be seen as both callous negligence and a tragic blunder.

The man leading the experiment in the effect of lysergic acid diethylamide, known as both LSD-25 or LSD or simply, in street parlance “acid,” on Tusko, a 7,000-pound bull elephant, was the infamous psychiatrist and CIA collaborator Dr. Louis Jolyon “Jolly” West. West was then a professor and head of the Department of Psychiatry, Neurology and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine. He was at OU between 1955 and 1969.

Poor Tusko would never know what hit him. Shot in the rump with an amount of LSD 3,000 times the level of a typical human dose, West, along with OU's Chester M. Pierce and the cartridge-syringe firing Warren Thomas, director of the Oklahoma City Zoo, watched as Tusko struggled and died. It is suspected they thought: It's an elephant. A big dose is called for. As it turns out, it remains the largest dose of LSD ever given to a creature, according to DailyCognition.com.

West is a decidedly controversial figure. And although he died over 12 years ago, his name pops up continually as a man who continually found himself at the center of major events or in the aftermath of major events, particularly political assassinations (visits over the years were made to Jack Ruby and later to Robert F. Kennedy’s alleged assassin Sirhan Sirhan. Also, West would meet with Charles Manson, Patty Hearst and allegedly even Branch Davidian David Koresh, among others). He would be known for his “anti-cult” work and his MK-ULTRA-linked research into mind control, psychedelic drugs and fringe science.

It would be his attacks on the Church of Scientology, in 1980, that would come back to haunt West. He called the church a “cult” and founder L. Ron Hubbard a “quack and a fake.” Still, West’s unconventional methods and Mengele-esque approaches to both animals and the human mind and body lead him to be considered a dangerous man of medicine to this very day.

As noted in the book The C.I.A. Doctors by Dr. Colin A. Ross, West is referenced as stating in a 1959 book that he first “became interested in LSD while I was in the Air Force.” Specifically, West had been stationed from 1948 to 1956 at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas where he served as chief of psychiatry service at 3700th USAF Hospital. San Antonio is reportedly a hotbed of spooky CIA activity and was where a lot of Operation Paper Clip Nazi scientists landed, like Dr. Hubertus Strughold, who, until not so long ago, had a library named after him at Brooks AFB near San Antonio.

This information, relayed in a chapter on “LSD Experiments,” notes West’s MK-ULTRA and mind control research and states: “Dr. Louis Jolyon West, who killed an elephant with LSD at the Oklahoma City Zoo, had TOP SECRET clearance with the CIA and branches of the military.”

And in the incredibly informative 1985 book Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD; The CIA, The Sixties and Beyond by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain, they write: “Dr. Louis Jolyon ‘Jolly’ West, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oklahoma, injected an elephant with a massive dose of 300,000 micrograms. Dr. West, a CIA contract employee and an avid believer in the notion that hallucinogens were psychotomimetic agents, was trying to duplicate the periodic ‘rut’ madness that overtakes male elephants for about one week each year. But the animal did not experience a model elephant psychosis, it just keeled over and remained in a motionless stupor. In attempting to revive the elephant, West administered a combination of drugs that ended up killing the poor beast.”

An online source called The Vaults of Erowid, in an article headlined “LSD related death of an elephant,” it states that Tusko “trumpeted, collapsed, fell heavily onto his right side, defecated, and went into status epilepticus.” Clearly, Tusko was in a heightened state of stress and pain and an attempt at administering Thorazine was only partially successful. Tusko would linger for a little more than 90 minutes after the initial injection before expiring.

There was initially some controversy and confusion following Tusko’s LSD-related death, notes the site. It was aksed if West had “acted irresponsibly and unscientifically” or “whether Jolly West may have had ulterior motives in his work because of his interests in the potential mind-control and warfare uses of LSD.”

The article notes that the huge dose, injected into Tusko with the assumption that “elephants would be resistant to LSD’s effects” and that the dose (297 mg) would not do much. The Thorazine injection behind Tusko’s ear is also highlighted as perhaps contributing to Tusko’s demise.

Notes the author: “It is certainly telling that the 'researchers' were willing to risk an extremely valuable zoo animal with their clearly irresponsible calculations. The times were certainly different then.”

And while not the most reliable source considering his “anti-cult” attacks on the Church of Scientology, a Scientology publication, Freedom, reported “West had ingested LSD himself before injecting Tusko, ‘the prize of the Oklahoma City Zoo.’ He was ‘evidently under its influence at the the time he sloshed through the beast’s entrails, performing an ‘autopsy’ which he recorded on film. He later issued a report to advance his ‘discovery’ that elephants could be killed with LSD and to promote use of the drug to cull elephant herds in Africa.”

West would later laugh about Tusko’s death according to the article, referencing his appearance in the early 1990’s at a DEA-sponsored LSD conference at a San Francisco hotel. West would tell the audience that “the hippies loved me, even though I had a crew cut. They loved me and trusted me after I told them that I was ‘the elephant killer’ – the famous guy who had killed an elephant with LSD.’”

So, what became of Tusko and what was the fallout from this cruel and failed experiment? Red Dirt Report visited the Oklahoma City Zoo this week seeking answers.

While the media relations person was unavailable, there was plenty of signs promoting the current elephant exhibit and nothing noting Tusko.

We did speak with Tara Henson, public relations spokesperson for the Oklahoma City Zoo, said they get media requests regarding “Tusko, the LSD elephant” every year. She admitted that she did not know much about the circumstances surrounding Tusko’s demise but that she would put us in touch with a zoo historian.

Reminding her that the experiment took place in 1962, Henson chuckled and said, “We would never do something like that now.”

But it did happen. And West’s negative legacy still haunts many. And as one source told us: “One of (West’s) assistants admitted doing ‘terrible’ things to people, but refused to elaborate.” Our inside source also noted that after working with West, the assistant “refused to go into hospitals … because he saw what could happen there.”

West became a notorious and sinister psychiatrist who was obsessed with mind-control and brainwashing. Nevertheless, West would be allowed to examine Jack Ruby, the man who shot and killed alleged John F. Kennedy assassin and CIA asset Lee Harvey Oswald.

As Acid Dreams authors Shlain and Lee note that West concluded Ruby was “nuts” after Ruby sank into “a paranoid state manifested by delusions, visual and auditory hallucinations and suicidal impulses.” Ruby had said a right-wing conspiracy was behind JFK’s murder. To West this was more evidence of Ruby’s insanity.

Ruby would be forced to take “happy pills” and would die in prison of cancer in January 1967. By that time, at the height of the acid scene in San Francisco, West, who should have been back in Oklahoma, had “rented a pad in the heart of Haight-Ashbury with the intention of studying the hippies in their native habitat.”

Shlain and Lee notes in Acid Dreams that West was in Haight-Ashbury’s “acid ghetto” for “monitoring” purposes.

West left his position at OU in 1969 and by 1972 had looked into opening the planned “Center for the Study of Reduction of Violence” in the Santa Monica mountains of California. Gov. Ronald Reagan would officially announce plans for the facility on Jan. 11, 1973.

According to a website that studies the development of eugenics in the United States, it notes that the proposed center is intended to study genetic, biochemical and neurophysiological reasons why certain people display antisocial behavior or impulsive aggression, i.e., "violent individuals, including prisoners and hyperkinetic children." Continuing, it states: “Other research would include study on drugs to curb violence. Dr. West foresees the day when people with violent tendencies would be monitored by people at central control stations who view screens containing read-outs from brain implants. At the first sign of a violent impulse, attendants would rush to administer the appropriate drugs. Qualified doctors are considered to run the center's electroshock center (operating on a 24 hour-per-day basis, seven days a week) and the psychosurgery operating area. (California Gov. Ronald) Reagan lobbies President Nixon, the Secretary of Defense and other federal agencies to support the center.”

The center, to be in a converted missile silo,  was to be modeled on the notorious California Medical Facility at Vacaville. This was the prison facility where LSD guru, the “Pope of Dope” Timothy Leary spent a year or so after a drug bust. While Leary told a reporter the administrators at Vacaville were “enlightened,” this facility was known for their horrific experiments in “anectine therapy” where a non-volunteer inmate is made to feel as if they are dying and told by an attendant during the torture session that “this is what will happen if you break the law.”

West has been quoted as telling federal officials that drugs be used to control “bothersome” segments of the population.

However, time was against West since the truth about MK-ULTRA and government-conducted mind-control experiments were being revealed by Sen. Frank Church and other members of congress. When word of the “violence center” was leaked to the press, and that West was going to focus on violent minority youth and methods that would “predict the probability of occurrences,” the California State legislature deep-sixed the plan. What were some of the methods West was promoting? Chemical castration, psychosurgery and testing experimental drugs on “involuntarily incarcerated individuals.” The idea, in total, was like the dystopian “precrime” program as noted in Philip K. Dick’s novel Minority Report, later made into a 2002 film starring celebrity Scientologist Tom Cruise.

But West would continue finding himself “studying” the likes of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and would meet with McVeigh a dozen times in prison. It should be noted that McVeigh, prior to his bizarre odyssey into the underbelly of mind-controlled militias and more, had worked at the Calspan Advanced Technology Center in Buffalo, New York. That outfit is “engaged in microscopic electronic enginerring of the kind applicable to telemetrics.” Calspan notes Alex Constantine, was founded in 1946 as part of the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, which included the “Fund for the Study of Human Ecology,” a CIA financing conduit for mind-control experiments by émigré Nazi scientists and others under the direction of CIA doctors Sidney Gottlieb, Ewen Cameron and Louis Jolyon West.

As a side note: If that “Human Ecology” outfit out of Cornell University sounds familiar, Suzi Hileman, the woman who, oddly, took 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green to the “Congress on Your Corner” event last January that ended in the attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and the deaths of Green (b. 9/11/01), Federal Judge John Roll and several others, happens to be a 1973 graduate of Cornell’s College of Human Ecology and is a member of the Human Ecology Alumni Association Board.

We have previously reported, here at Red Dirt Report, that we suspect Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged Tucson shooter, is an MK-ULTRA mind-control victim.There are plenty of things that don't add up regarding the Jan. 8, 2011 shootings and when we noted the connection to Cornell's College of Human Ecology and a 9/11 connection, some red flags started waving.

As Alex Constantine noted in an article headlined “Mind control and Timothy McVeigh’s rise from robotic soldier to mad bomber,” West, then with UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute, would lead a “psychological trauma team” that would “converge in Oklahoma City to treat survivors of the explosion and victims’ families.”

As I write this, the legacy of eugenics, as supported by West, is being felt today. Look to North Carolina, finally dealing with the eugenics legacy in that state where a sterilization program ran between 1929 and 1974 and now seeks to give victims reparations for having been wronged.

With West’s creepy interest in manipulating the mind and body, it is not surprising that he took an interest in cults, as opposed to religions, and sought, allegedly, to exterminate them.

In 1983, West was quoted as saying, “What would be the effect of a device or technique which, when applied by society to any organization calling itself religious would have no untoward effect upon bonafide religions, but would be deadly to the fakes?"

Rather shocking. And that was less than 30 years ago. One wonders about his protégés in the field and what they are working on now?

An obsession with death seems to run in the West family. Not long after being diagnosed with cancer, West’s son, John West, “assemble(d) a deadly cocktail of pills” which he gave to his 74-year-old father on Jan. 2, 1999. He would then assist in the suicide of his mother who was given a similar cocktail of pills when she learned her mind was going after contracting Alzheimer’s disease. John West would write a book, published 10 years after he assisted his parents’ suicide, titled The Last Goodnights: Assisting My Parents With Their Suicides.

Questions about the legality of assisted suicide and West’s admission lead to the fact that while it is a felony in California, where the assisted suicides took place, “since there were no witnesses and no evidence to prove his guilt, West, a former lawyer, is outside the jurisdiction of the law,” according to a December 2010 article in a school newspaper in California.

And what of Tusko? As The Oklahoman reported, and revisited in 2007 by the Oklahoma Gazette, West was studying “musth,” that mating madness we noted earlier in this story. And while another scientist successfully studied an elephant on an acid trip – it survived – Tusko has largely been forgotten, save for the occasional inquiry by a curious reporter.

We hope to include more information on Tusko and where his remains ended up in the coming days. Stay tuned.

Copyright 2011 West Marie Media

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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