If you’re a male African elephant, having an infected tusk is not a good thing.
True, elephants, by nature, are not complainers. But a bad tusk can lead to all sorts of complications, none of them good.
So when keepers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park noticed that 2-year-old Emanti had a broken tusk, inspection was called for. Several weeks ago, the equivalent of a root canal was performed on Emanti, no easy job on a mammal weighing 1,700 pounds and requiring a large amount of anesthesia.
Follow-up showed that the infection had not been altogether quelled. So a decision was made to remove the tusk entirely — a first for a Safari Park elephant although Dr. James Oosterhuis, the park’s principal veterinarian, had experience with other tusk removals.
“We did a walrus in Germany,” Oosterhuis said.
Special instruments were designed that could cut the ligaments that hold Emanti’s tusk in place. Dr. David Fagan, a veterinary dental specialist whose patients range from aardvarks to zebras, was summoned.
In a 90-minute operation Thursday, Oosterhuis and Fagan, backed by two dozen keepers and others, removed the 17-inch tusk from the sedated animal, without having to break it into pieces. The gap will close over naturally, shutting off a pathway for debris, officials said.