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Emanti has a broken tusk removed -- no small job on an elephant

February 24, 2013 |  9:00 am

When Emanti, a two-year-old elephant at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park had a broken tusk, a decision was made to remove it entirely -- a first for a Safari Park elephant
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.

Emanti, a still-growing juvenile who may someday weigh 14,000 pounds, was groggy for a time but quickly returned to the herd.

"He never missed a meal," Oosterhuis said.

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Photo: Emanti during his root-canal surgery, weeks before his tusk removal. Credit: San Diego Zoo

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