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  • Jamie Thom

Tolstoy and the Elephants of Amboseli - Luxury Kenya Safari

One of the highlights of my year has been visiting Amboseli National Park on safari and spending time with one of the greatest animals alive today, an elephant named Tolstoy, whose tusks are some of the largest known to man. His tusks got so big and dragged on the ground they decided to tranquilize him and cut off the tip to allow him to walk more freely. I spent the afternoon near him and the following morning he was gracious enough to be right in front of our lodge, with Kilimanjaro in the background.

Amboseli is synonymous with two particular things – majestic herds of elephant and glorious views of Mount Kilimanjaro in neighbouring Tanzania. The elephants in Amboseli are well known and have been studied and recorded over decades, started by Cynthia Moss in the late 60's.

Elephants with such huge tusks are very rare, thanks to years of hunting and poaching for such large individuals - now they are not only low in number but genetically rare. 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.

Elephant and mammoth dentine has a characteristic cross-hatching pattern (also known as Lines of Schreger or engine-turnings) which can be used to identify ivory. This is not present in the tusks of other animals.

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.

About one quarter of the tusk is housed within the elephant's skull, which has developed in order to be able to bear the weight of these huge teeth.

Read more about the Amboseli elephants here -

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