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A tusk for a tusk

Chad Cocking | Wildlife

It was exactly one month to the day after we posted a blog celebrating Apollo’s impressive size and large tusks that we came across him having had a major alteration.Two afternoons prior, we had spent a wonderful time in the presence of this gentle giant at the very same spot, chatting about how fortunate we were to see such a large-tusked elephant in the wild. Having just left Tanda Tula Safari Camp,we could see him in the distance as we approached Machaton Dam, due to the high temperatures it was no surprise to locate him in the same area again.However, the shock came very shortly after that when we all noticed that something rather obvious was missing, and no amount of blinking of our eyes was going to bring back into view should have been there!Our beloved Apollo was walking towards us, but rather than having two enormous tusks curving in our direction, today, he only had one.

Somehow, somewhere in the past 48 hours, Apollo had managed to snap his slightly larger right-hand tusk clean off, leaving only a small remnant of the once magnificent piece of ivory attached to his enormous head, which now suddenly didn’t seem quite as enormous.We all sat watching him walk across the open area with a large amount of disbelief surrounding this scene; how had it happened, and something that concerned me more, where had it happened?

One aspect of becoming an old elephant bull such as Apollo is that as you get older, your tusks grow exponentially quicker.The downside of this growth-form is that as the tusks are getting longer in the latter part of your life, the ivory is not nearly as dense as it once was, and this makes the large tusks that much more brittle. As a result of this, it is not uncommon for old elephant bulls to snap their tusks clean off, as was now abundantly clear to us!

Exactly what happened would be down to pure speculation, but the two most likely scenarios would be that he had either been involved in a fight with another elephant, or that he had broken the tusk whilst feeding.Considering Apollo’s size, and sexual status (he is no longer in musth, which he was last month), I personally believe that the chances of him having lost the tusk in a fight are pretty slim.Having come out of musth, his hormones were not driving him to follow the herds as they were a couple of months ago, and even if he was in musth, there are presently no other elephant bulls in his size range that would dare have challenged him to the point where they would have engaged in a physical battle.As a result of that, my personal opinion is that Apollo lost his tusk whilst feeding; he is well known for pushing down large trees and uprooting shrubs, bushes and small trees that most other elephants have not got the power to do.With the conditions of the bush getting drier and drier by the week, the elephants are having to become a little more destructive in their feeding habits as they begin to pull up trees in order to get to their nutrient stores in the roots.It seems most likely that in using his right-tusk for leverage to assist with the task of pulling up such a tree, that the pressure exerted was just too much for even the thickest of tusks and with what one can only imagine was an almighty crack, Apollo’s right tusk must have snapped off and crashed to the ground.

My mind was immediately doing back-flips at the thought of finding such a piece of ivory in the bush for the simple reason of being able to weigh and measure it and see just how big this boys right tusk actually was!Sadly though, despite my efforts to locate the tusk I found nothing.Perhaps that is not such a bad thing though, as I can only imagine my disappointment if I were to find out that his tusk wasn’t quite as long or as heavy as I had believed, and by giving it a number, it may having taken the magic of his two-tusked presence away?

Despite the fact that Apollo is now somewhat less impressive than he was a week ago, his presence in the area will never be taken for granted, and the mystery of his lost tusk will be just another interesting story of the bush that we will be able to share with all those guests that will be lucky enough to see this once great tusker.



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