ATE Statement on tusk removal
Another question we are often asked: why not saw off the tusks of elephants in order to save them from poachers?
There are many compelling reasons why it would not be practical, economical or ethical to immobilize every elephant to cut off its tusks.
• It's logistically difficult. Many elephants live in remote areas, hard to reach and work in. Darting is difficult and dangerous to both the elephants and the veterinarian team.
• It's numerically impossible. In Kenya alone there are 37,000 elephants. Both male and female African elephants over 2 1/2 years old have tusks, say 30,000 individuals with some ivory. Even if you could immobilise at the world-record rate of 5 a day (which ATE did once in 2011!), the operation would take some 15 years of full-time work. And by that time, the first elephant would have re-grown meter-long tusks!
• It's expensive. Even if teams of vets and rangers could reach all the elephants, the cost of the exercise would be prohibitive. Among other things the drug is costly and difficult to obtain.
• It would be painful. There is a nerve that runs well down the length of an elephant's tusk. Cutting the tusk off would be painful, similar to you breaking a tooth. Remember that an elephant tusk is a modified incisor. Cutting beyond the nerve would still leave a third of the tusk in place.
• Finally, elephants need their tusks for feeding and digging and for defending themselves and their calves from predators.