Tuskless in Tanzania

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This brown-eyed beauty was born without tusks — a shortcoming perhaps, but not a deformity. I photographed her in Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park in 2008.  She was with her two children, both of whom had tusks.  She is unusual only in that Lake Manyara has been known for its large tusked elephants.

Lake Manyara was first introduced to many by Iain Douglas-Hamilton, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the African elephant, and his wife, Oria, both of whom are saints in my book.  They pioneered the first in-depth scientific study of elephant social behavior.  Their books “Among the Elephants” and “Battle for the Elephants” are must-reads!  But back to Tanzania and being tuskless.

Tanzania has been blessed with abundant wildlife and has some of the best elephant habitat in Africa.  Sadly, year-end summaries of illegal ivory seizures in 2012 indicate that a substantial portion is from Tanzania. Experts now apply DNA analysis to contraband ivory and are able to determine country of origin.  Earlier this week, a Member of Tanzania’s Parliament estimated that over 25% of blood ivory is from Tanzania and that 23,000 elephants were slain last year — 67 a day.  Furthermore, he alleged government and police officials are involved in the racket and announced his intentions to launch an inquiry.

I am returning to Lake Manyara in two weeks.  Perhaps I have a good chance of seeing Ms. Tuskless again as she would have no appeal to poachers and her children are still young.  As for many other elephants in Tanzania, being tuskless means being dead.