The majestic silhouette of an elephant is infamous – the towering height, billowing ears and huge tusks. However, elephants are being cruelly hunted and killed by poachers for one of the very things that make them so unique.
What are tusks, and why do elephants need them?
Tusks are essentially huge, elongated teeth. They’re made up of tissue, blood, nerves, dentine and enamel – and they never stop growing. Tusks are crucial to an elephant’s daily life, as they help to perform numerous tasks, such as foraging for food, digging, moving obstacles and acting as weapons when necessary.
What do humans need with tusks?
Throughout history, predominantly in China, tusks are viewed in a similar way to diamonds – a cultural signal of wealth, but essentially a useless ornament. Ivory was also historically used in a number of products until synthetic materials replaced it, such as buttons, hairpins, chopsticks, needles, combs, buckles, billiard balls and piano keys.
Despite the leap in technology and materials decreasing any need for ivory, elephant hunting is still rife. Poachers use a number of methods to kill an elephant, from darts and poison to automatic rifles.
However, there are significant efforts to completely eradicate poaching. The efforts come in three predominant forms –
- Eliminating the ivory market by flooding it with synthetic alternatives
- Educating the public through educational marches and protests
- Protecting the elephants themselves through conservation efforts.
Elephants are incredible, unique creatures that are unlike any other mammal on the planet – but with the demand for ivory still worryingly high, who knows how much longer the current population can be sustained.