EleFact Friday: Horns and Tusks

As elephant lovers, we all know that poaching is a major threat to the species. Similar to rhinoceroses and their horns, poachers and hunters target elephants for their tusks. The difference between the two animals is that rhino horns actually grow back, but elephants’ tusks do not. Why is this? For today’s EleFACT, we’ll take a closer look.

Unlike an elephant’s tusks, even when completely removed, rhino horns can grow back. They are composed of keratin, similar to human fingernails and hair, and the horn itself can regenerate within three years. 

We’ve shared before that elephant tusks are actually their teeth. Acting as their incisors, the tusks are made up of dentin that is coated with enamel. They are so deeply embedded into their skulls, with a nerve running down the center, that once they are viciously removed by poachers and hunters, there’s no chance of them growing back. Unfortunately, there are still people who think that ivory can just fall out harmlessly, similar to losing a tooth. 

However, elephant tusks can be trimmed. Elephants in captivity can have their tusks trimmed for multiple reasons, including safety, and can grow back as fast as an inch per year. Because the trimming of the tusks does not affect the nerve or the part of the tusk that is embedded in the skull, the dentin and enamel can regenerate, like rhino horns.

Educating ourselves and others about the harmful effects of poaching is just one way we can aid in the conservation efforts of both species. The main risk to elephants is from humans through poaching and destruction of their habitat. By creating safe spaces for elephants to exist outside of captivity, we hope to help the species thrive safely. 

Photo of Lady


  1. REPLY
    Bonnie says

    Thanks Sara didn’t know about the Elephants Tusks also hopefully all Animals will be safe

  2. REPLY
    Tammy says

    I learned something new today so thank you once again Sara for very interesting facts!

  3. REPLY
    Elaine K Decker says

    Isn’t there a way to mark the tusks in some way like with some kind of environmentally friendly paint that penetrates all layers of the tusks so they are worthless to poachers?

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      I don’t think anything like that has ever been done.

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      there was a social media post about pink tusks a while back, but it’s not something that was real or would have worked, and unfortunately, caused a lot of struggles with those working with poaching because of people believing it to be true. it would be lovely if it would be that ‘simple’ of a solution, but it is not.–kat

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