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.
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.
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.