,How about those Super Long Teeth? 🐘
Did you know that Elephant tusks are elongated incisors made of ivory? Humans have incisors as well, but they are small enough to fit inside our mouths.
Image of an African baby elephant and an African teenage elephant with tusks
Just like a tooth, the elephant tusk is wrapped in enamel to manage wear and tear and the majority of the tusk is made up of dentine which is a dense and hard bony tissue.
In African elephants, tusks begin to grow when they are 2 years old. In Asia, only make elephants have tusks.
Why do elephants need ivory?
In our blog post "what do elephants eat-the elephant diet", we discuss the importance of elephant tusks to the elephant diet especially in Africa where both the male and female elephants have tusks. Elephants need their tusks because they will often dig with their tusks to obtain salt and minerals to supplement nutrients. Another important aspect for both the elephants and the ecosystem is that African elephants are known to dig up areas in the ground with their tusks in the dry season for water, which all wildlife in the surrounding ecosystem will certainly benefit from.
Male elephants, whose tusks are larger, tend to use their tusks to battle one another. Why do elephants battle? Male elephants will sometimes fight each other playfully and in some cases, they battle to claim dominance.
Should you cut off elephants tusks to save them from poachers?
First, the answer to this is no, we should not cut off elephant tusks because it sound unethical to inflict the same kind of pain for the elephants that we are trying to save them from. People might argue that it may be better to feel the pain rather than to face death, but there are other things that can be done for example helping to eliminate the ivory market which sounds hard because as long as there is demand for ivory, the poachers will continue to kill elephants and rhinos for their tusks.
If you would for a moment, imagine someone sawing off your tooth, it would certainly be painful because just like your tooth, an elephant tusk has a nerve running down the length of its tusk. Not only would this be painful if damages, but as a modified incisor, when cut off beyond the nerve, it would still leave a third of the tusk in place.
Elephants need their tusks to dig for water, to help with feeding, and to protect themselves and their young ones from predators.
There's an African proverb that says that "An elephant never gets tired of carrying its tusks". This is something that speaks directly to poaching - elephants don't need your help holding up their tusks, not even the big tuskers.