Please note that for security reasons we do not provide names or specific locations of any living elephants featured in this issue. We call on our community not to speculate about the location or names of those elephants, and to join us in celebrating these treasures for what they are - African icons.
An elephant with tusks reaching the ground is typically defined as a big tusker. According to Rowland Ward’s records, the heaviest tusk of an African elephant weighed an astonishing 226lb (102.5kg), the heaviest tusk of a woolly mammoth weighed 201lb (91.2kg) and the heaviest tusk of an Asiatic elephant weighed 161lb (73kg). However, it is important to note that the longest tusks are not always the heaviest, as weight also depends on the circumference of the tusks. Lengthwise, the longest African elephant tusk measured around 3.5m, the longest woolly mammoth tusk measured around 4m and the longest Asiatic elephant tusk measured around 3m.
Unfortunately, hunters very much prize the so-called "hundred pounders" - elephants whose tusks weigh at least 45kg each. As a combined result of trophy hunting, large scale exploitation of ivory for consumer goods in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and devastating poaching, big tuskers have almost been wiped off the African continent. Once a common sight, roaming far and wide across East, Central and Southern Africa, now there are very few big tuskers left on the whole continent.
In the above cover photo, you can admire an iconic big tusker against a spectacular backdrop. Now around 47 years old, this fine bull is just about to exit his prime, which is a period normally between 40 and 50 years old when big tuskers reach their peak reproductive age, as well as the climax of their power. This age coincides with the most pronounced growth of their tusks, which means that a lot of bulls draw unwanted attention during these years.
These elephants are like no others. They have captured our imagination. Big tuskers have become incredibly special and, almost two years after the death of Satao at the hands of poachers, we hope that this gallery not only celebrates the existence of big tuskers but does justice to their majesty as the very last of their kind.
In November 2014 this elephant was treated from a wound that was probably caused by poachers, which further highlights how stringent measures need to be taken to protect these amazing animals. A combination of solutions, including constant surveillance, armed protection, relocation and artificial insemination programmes, is arguably the way forward. As Satao's tragic death has proven, simple armed protection is not enough and big tuskers need armed guards to monitor them 24/7 - a similar protection to that which was enjoyed by an iconic bull called Ahmed in the Marsabit National Park in Kenya in the 1970s.
To find out more about the author of this incredible gallery, George Dian Balan, head to the last page.
Cover photo provided by Johan Marais.