The Emerging Tuskers Project

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The Emerging Tuskers Project

Unread post by barryels »

The Emerging Tuskers Project:

This is a project that has captured the attention and interest of the public long before any formal proposal was submitted. The Kruger National Park is one of the few areas in Southern Africa where large tuskers can still be found. The tuskers of Kruger have been an attraction for visitors since the Magnificent 7 promotion was launched by Dr Tol Pienaar in 1980.

Subsequent to the death of these magnificent elephants and the opening of the elephant hall which is now home to their ivory, the naming and identification of tuskers was carried out informally by then Large Mammal Scientist Dr Ian Whyte. At this time tuskers were named after locations where they were seen and general names of interest.

Public interest in the project and submissions for identification continued to increase to a point where it was decided to formalize the project and have a team that could monitor these bulls and disseminate the information to the public.

The Emerging Tuskers Project was formally approved in May 2003 by the Conservation Management Committee as an ongoing project. The project was to be based at the Letaba Elephant Museum and administered by the museum staff.

The objectives of the project are:

1. To identify and catalogue the current large and emerging tuskers of the Kruger National Park through photographic material submitted by staff and tourists and to maintain the resultant data base of these large bulls.
2. To gain an idea of these animals’ home ranges and distribution through sightings by staff and tourists.
3. To determine any trends that may emerging regarding home ranges and distribution from the monitoring process.
4. To make the information gained available to guests through the displays at the Elephant Museum at Letaba and on the SANParks website.

Naming of Tuskers:

In the past the approved proposal by Dr Ian Whyte saw large tuskers being named in recognition of deceased or retired colleagues who have devoted their careers through loyal service etc. to the advancement of the KNP/SANParks and conservation.

In 2015 KNP Management decided to shift this and the new policy is to name large tuskers after unique features in their home range or characteristics unique to the individual tusker. Where possible characteristics of the bull are used as the preference due to poaching concerns in particular when a bull has a very localised range. When a bull has a very large range covering several regions, features/landmarks within these ranges can be used.

Emerging Tuskers

The Emerging tuskers are an elite group of elephant bulls and not every elephant will be considered for naming, it is not the quantity of bulls that are important to be named but the quality of the bulls that receive this honor that is important.

To ensure the exclusivity and prominence of these bulls the decision to name is governed by distinct criteria. Many elephant bulls in the Kruger National Park are notable but few will qualify to be named.

Criteria for an elephant to become an Emerging Tusker and is named

Primarily the criteria are as follows:

• The tusks must extend between 1m – 1.5m from the lip line. (The apparent weight of the ivory is also factored into the process.);

• The elephant must have the potential to develop from an emerging tusker into one of the Great Tusker of the KNP and for this the estimated age of the elephant is essential, younger bulls who have yet to hit their tusk growth spurts can be considered as a potential or emerging tusker.

Older bulls usually determined but the sunken temples, exposed shoulder blades for example are unlikely to develop further and are therefore not eligible candidates. (This is not always easy and requires a skilled eye to see as elephants will often loose condition in winter and can improve in the wet seasons.); and

• A full photo series of the bull must be available before naming to ensure that the proposed emerging tusker is not a pre-existing tusker.

The photo series should include both ears, side view of the tusk, full frontal of the tusker and other potential ID points such as growths, trunk thickening, tusk grass notches where possible. This will ensure that there are no duplicate or apparent look a-like tuskers named.

What is a Great Tusker?

A Great Tusker is an elephant bull that has tusks extending in excess of 1.5m from the lip line. The tusks will usually appear to be at ground level or close to ground level (this can be variable based on the height and size of the elephant).

Unique to Kruger there are a limited number of these bulls currently in the Kruger National Park.

Several Emerging tuskers are showing potential but time will determine if these will rival the Great Tuskers of the past.

Skills in the ID-ing of Tuskers

Identification of Emerging tuskers can be challenging and takes time to develop the skills and to know what to look for. Most people pay the most attention to the ivory. However this can be misleading as the ivory can appear different in length and shape from several angles and is not always reliable. Many tuskers also have similarly shaped ivory and can be difficult to differentiate between the bulls in particular when they share overlapping home ranges.

The most valuable pointers in addition to the above is ear notches, tusk thickening and other ‘blemishes’ that is taken into account during the ID-ing process.

Care should always be taken to ensure identifications are done by those who have the necessary skills in this area.

Where can ‘mites read more about Tuskers:

All the information relating to the emerging tuskers project including photos and information pages on the Magnificent 7, Past Tuskers, Tuskers presumed deceased (these are named bulls that have not been seen for more than 10 years but for whom no carcass has been found); Female Tuskers and Current Emerging Tuskers can be found on the SANParks website with the link: ... efault.php

How can ‘mites and visitors to Kruger National Park participate in this project?

Those wanting to add their sightings to the database can submit images to [email protected]. Alternatively, those wanting identification or confirmation that their sighting qualifies as Tuskers’ can email [email protected].

(Thank you to Kirsty Redman for the information)

Interesting information about Tusks

What are tusks?

Elephant tusks are upper incisor teeth, which grow very long. They are similar to human teeth, consisting of a central core of pulp, covered in dentine and encased in bone-like cementum. The internal dentine, making up 95% of the tusk, is the substance commonly referred to as ‘ivory'. It is a combination of mineral-based connective tissue and collagen proteins, making it very strong. Young elephants also have a layer of enamel at the very tip of their tusks but this is soon worn off and not replaced.

How do they grow?

Tusks grow throughout an elephant's life although they may wear down or even break due to extensive use or major clashes. Many elephants favour one tusk over the other (effectively they are left- or right- tusked just as you are left- or right-handed). The most-used or ‘master' tusk is usually shorter than the ‘servant' as it is worn-down by regular use. Often the most gentle bull elephants have the largest tusks in a population, as they are less likely to break them in a fierce clash.

Uses of tusks

Both male and female African elephants grow tusks. They have a variety of uses. They may be used to dig holes, rip up vegetation, strip bark from trees and lever heavy objects. They are also used for self-defence, and in aggressive attacks. Some animals can sometimes be seen resting their trunks on their tusks.
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