What are tusks?
Elephants' tusks (see also under ivory)
correspond to other mammals' incisor teeth. One of the tusk's unique
characteristics is that it does not have a coat of dental enamel.
Elephant calves' tusks break through when they are approximately 1 year
old. When they break through, tusks still have a coat of dental enamel.
This coat of dental enamel is rubbed off when the teeth are used, so
that tusks consists largely of dentine.
Normally, around two thirds of a tusk is visible. The first third is
lodged in the skull's
tooth socket. Two thirds of the tusk are 'alive'. This means that they
have pulp cavities which are filled with a tissue which has an abundance
of blood vessels and branches of nerves. This is why tusks are sensitive
to pressure and blows. A tusk breaking off can have disastrous consequences
for the elephant concerned. In the worst case the odontic nerve, the
pulp, is exposed and the animal dies of the enormous pain.
What distinguishes Asian elephants from African elephants?
In the Asian elephant, only about half of bulls have tusks, in
contrast to African elephants, where both sexes have large and very
visible tusks. Female Asian elephants only have thin, short tusks, which
break off in fights or under too great a strain, however, and do not