After last week’s EleFACT, we received many questions about trimming tusks on elephants. We’re back today with more details and further explanation of the process.
Tusks are occasionally trimmed with a hacksaw or with a thin razor wire (Gigli wire). Because the tusk is incredibly dense, the wire can be wrapped around the tusk itself, especially when they are shorter, and cut through the tusk relatively easily. The smaller the tusk, the quicker the process; a tusk that is only a few inches in diameter can take about 3-4 minutes to get through. After trimming, tusks can splinter or fracture, especially in captivity when the tusks are being hit or pressing against bar or concrete: think sleeping on a concrete floor or hitting tusks on bars as an elephant eats. Wear spots can develop on the side of tusks from elephants spending time laying down on concrete, so metal bands can also be placed onto tusks as a safeguard. Metal caps are sometimes used to aid in protection, although it’s only because of unnatural scenarios where elephants are in captivity.
The nerve in the tusk is similar in ways to the toenails on the dog – the longer the nail, or the tusk, the closer the nerve tends to be to the end. The nerve grows with the tusk, but if you keep the tusk trimmed, the nerve often becomes ‘trained’ to stay further back, although it is dependent on the individual.
So why cut tusks at all? Long, pointy tusks can be a danger to other elephants or humans, so keeping them trimmed can be a safety procedure. Medically, if there’s something abnormal or an already developed fracture, trimming can be used to manage those issues. Ultimately, trimming is a procedure that allows for better management in captivity. Elephants in the wild wear their tusks down (and grow them out further) more naturally than elephants in captivity. Tusks can be worn more unevenly, break more quickly, or splinter more frequently in captivity, leading to more problems. Ultimately the procedure is not necessary for all elephants, as made clear by the amount of healthy tusked elephants living in the wild, but more of a management tool for those in captivity.
Photo of Bambi