One of the most unique characteristic of elephants are their tusks. These appendages are simply modified incisors, but have captured our imaginations for hundreds of years. Most elephants will have an initial set of tusks – known as milk tusks – for about the first year of their lives. After this, they grow their second, and last set of tusks. They use these tusks for self defence, but mostly to assist them with foraging – stripping the bark off of trees, particularly during winter. Despite being worn down through daily usage, the tusks can continue to grow for an elephant’s entire lifetime (up to around 60 years). Considering this, it is no wonder that Africa has been home to some elephants with the largest tusks ever recorded.

In an attempt to intimidate its observer, this elephant bull stares down over its tusk, simply a modified incisor, but an appendage that has fascinated humans for centuries. Photograph by James Tyrrell

Typically, in the Greater Kruger region, the average bull elephant may possess tusks of between 20 and 40 kg. However, the Greater Kruger has become known for several big tuskers which roamed, and continue to roam this area. In fact, in the 1980s, seven of the largest elephants in the Kruger National Park were termed the “Magnificent Seven”. The largest of these tuskers was a bull that occupied the northern parts of the Kruger National Park. This bull, referred to as Shawu, possessed the longest tusks on record for this area –  317 cm (125 inches) long. That same tusk weighed nearly 53 kg (117 lbs). Another elephant from the Magnificent Seven was referred to as João and was estimated to have a set of tusks each weighing around 70 kg (154 lbs) – the heaviest tusks on record in the Greater Kruger.

Although to date few elephants such as these still exist, there are some remaining large tuskers spread throughout parts of Southern Africa. Probably as a result of the fence erected in the 1970s between the Sabi Sands Wildtuin and the Kruger National Park, and due to trophy hunting over the last two centuries, very large bulls are uncommon in the Sabi Sands. However, following the removal of the fence between the Kruger National Park and the Sabi Sand Wildtuin in 1994, sightings of big tuskers have increased. Occasionally, bull elephants with impressive sets of tusks wander through Londolozi from the Kruger National Park and still continue to capture the attention of many guests and rangers alike. Below is a collection of images of large tuskers which have been photographed at Londolozi over the past few years.

A particularly large bull elephant walks across an open clearing at Londolozi at dusk. This particular bull was seen in 2015. Photograph by James Tyrrell

An elephant bull with long tusks follows a family group of elephants across the Sand River. When an elephant cow is in oestrus, these bulls (when in musth) typically dominate over the younger and smaller bulls which may have been attracted by the females. Photograph by James Tyrrell

Although not particularly heavy looking tusks, what is admirable is the length of this bulls tusks. This bull was photographed at Londolozi in 2014.

This bull has an impressive set of tusks and the grandeur of the elephant is captured by the photographer getting as low as possible. This big tusker was photographed at Londolozi in 2014.

Big tusker

This elephant was photographed at Londolozi in 2012 and is one of the best specimens I have seen. The sunken temples of this bull also suggest that he was an older individual, which had probably had his tusks for over 40 years.

With a complete absence of hunting in the greater Kruger Park, the genes of the Magnificent Seven and other tuskers like them are surely still out there, waiting to manifest in more enormous-tusked individuals. With no fences between the Sabi Sands and the Kruger Park, it is surely inevitable that we will continue to see magnificent specimens like these into the future.

Filed under Wildlife

5 Comments

on Elephant Tusks – Majesty Celebrated

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Micky Sadoff
Guest

Love this!! Related to Abu???

Dina
Guest

in Botswana most of the elephants have smaller tusks , probably due to the fact that the food is different .
Maybe having smaller tusks will help them to survive !

Darlene Knott
Guest

Amazing! Love the ‘Tuskers’!

Rienie Denner
Guest

I see you don’t mention poaching as a possible cause for the decline in the numbers of large tuskers? You only mention the fence and trophy hunting as possible causes. So I conclude from that you didn’t have any poached elephants during the last 2 centuries??? I find it extremely hard to believe. Unsustainable hunting in the past surely could contribute towards the decline in the number of large tuskers, but so does poaching. Poachers also prize large tuskers or haven’t you realised??? I think it’s totally unfair to lay a large proportion of the blame on trophy hunting, while you don’t even care to mention poaching. I think you should rethink your view.

Wendy Brislin
Guest

Just back from 3 weeks in Kruger. Many great tuskers but also a surprising number of tuskless elephants. Saw many in Zambia but seemed to be more here this visit.

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