Elephant Tusks Never Grow Back 

Posted on June 21st 2019

WWF Helps Break Up Major Ivory Trafficking Network

The tusk and horn of the elephant and rhino make them iconic and is unfortunately the same reason both species are endangered. Both poachers and hunters look to target the rhino because many people incorrectly believe their horns have healing powers. Elephants are targeted for their ivory which is seen as a status symbol and even a financial investment in Asia. There is a however a question that many people ask, do tusks and horns ever grow back?

Yes & No

The short answer is that elephants cannot regrow their tusks, but rhino horns do grow back. Tusks are mostly made of what is called dentin which is hard, dense bony tissue and is completely coated with enamel according to WWF. Most African elephants have tusks whilst most male Asian elephants also sport a set of tusks. A few elephants have extra-long tusks that are exceptionally beautiful known as big tuskers.

Tusks are very useful

Tusks are very useful for animals, they can be used by elephants to keep their trunks protected, lift objects, dig for water and defend themselves. However, when a pair of tusks are removed, they never grow back and according to experts because they are embedded in the elephant’s skull with a nerve running down their centre. There is no feasible way to harvest them which means ivory needs to come from a dead elephant, that was either culled or died naturally.

Culling is ineffective

Culling is hardly a palatable option. Even through culling allows for the greatest quantity of ivory to be taken by killing the oldest and weakest in the herd without having much of an impact on the growth of its population. The fact of the matter is that elephants reproduce so slowly it would not be possible to meet the demand of the market. Not everyone is aware that tusks do not regrow. One survey polling 1,200 people living in six different cities in China in 2007 found that 70 per cent of respondents believed that elephants lost their tusks naturally in just the same way a child loses their tooth.

Educations is key

Education seems to be the key. After the respondents were told that removing an elephant’s tusk results in its death, 80 per cent said they would no longer buy ivory. Shortly after that survey a campaign was launched that reaches 23 million people in China every day. In contrast to tusks, rhino horns do grow back. Rhino horns are made from keratin, the same thing that human hair and fingernails are made from. Despite that, poachers still kill rhinos for their horn even though simply removing the horn would preserve its life.

Dehorning rhinos still problematic

There have been some extreme cases where poachers have even killed pregnant rhinos, sliced them open to extract the unborn foetus so they can hack off their tiny horn stumps. In order to save them from poachers, some conservationists have rhino’s professionally dehorned. This is a process requiring the rhino to be sedated and then sawing off its horn. A rhino that lives for 40 years and has its horn trimmed every 18-months will produce about 59 kilograms of horn. Unfortunately dehorning a rhino doesn’t always work because poachers still attempt to extract the leftover stump.


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