Let’s break down some of the misconceptions that surround a pink tusked elephant.
- Ivory has similar consistency to bone, thus making it very difficult to dye (rhino horn, which is made of keratin like your fingernails, is easier to dye). There is a tiny grain of truth that this may work for rhino horns, but there is no evidence of this being successful as an anti-poaching technique. Ivory is very difficult to dye because it is so dense, and would make this exceptionally difficult to achieve a pink tusk that poachers wouldn’t want.
- Tusks grow throughout an elephant’s life, which would mean re-dyeing periodically. So this is not a cheap, one-time option. Approximately 1/3 of the tusk is imbedded in the elephant’s skull, which is why we see so many pictures of elephants with their faces hacked off, to get to all of the ivory in their head. Periodic re-dying is expensive and would mean more human-elephant interactions with an already hesitant species, something that would increase stress and anxiety among herds.
- The method to apply the dye is questionable. One would have to dart an elephant to administer the dye, which is a risky undertaking. Elephants are so big, their weight can crush their organs. Adults don’t typically sleep lying down, if they do it’s for very short periods. If they fall wrong when they’ve been darted, they can die in a matter of moments. Any darting procedure must be very carefully executed, I've seen video of a well-meaning vet dart an elephant incorrectly, and it fell wrong and died within moments (crushed his own lungs). Professionals in the field are very careful and only dart when necessary, for life saving procedures. Not to mention the cost involved with attempting to dart thousands of skittish elephants. Think of the aircraft, vehicles, the immobilizing drug, and the number of people required to carry it out as safely as possible, and you’ve got a costly operation on your hands, when anti- poaching efforts have strained budgets as it is. It is simply a risky, stressful, and expensive idea. There have been some suggestions about making the dye edible and put into foods for the animals to consume. However, this raises a number of issues. Finding dye that will dye the ivory, and not harm the digestive tract or organs of the animal, while ONLY dyeing the tusk and nothing else, is exceptionally difficult. Not sure that many field biologists or chemists have managed that. Bank note dye is highly toxic, and most dyes that can be consumed are usually temporary. There is also no evidence that this has been tried or been successful in the field.
- This mentions that people use "the same dye as bank notes." Totally unqualified statement. This is not possible. Dye that’s used in bank notes are under strict protections, to protect counterfeiting. One does not simply walk into a store and buy a package of dye that’s used in bank notes. Furthermore, HOW this dye is administered is questionable, since ivory doesn’t absorb dye. Again, I’d like to hear how you get your hands on bank note dye and not get questioned by the government.
So, in the end, this argument is left with nothing to stand on. There is no viable way to get the dye into the tusks without harming the animal or causing undue stress on the herd, no viable way to make this a successful idea by any measure.
Poaching is a huge problem with catastrophic results on the entire ecosystem. We need to continue to support other anti- poaching methods, and I encourage everyone to check out iWorry, the campaign launched by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, for further ideas on how to stop the poaching and end the ivory trade. In the end, it will be us humans to stop WANTING the ivory, to stop wanting to consume this product. When the buying stops, the killing can, too.
If you come across a pink tusked elephant on your social media journey, be sure to spread the word that this is a false claim with no evidence to back it up, and encourage people to check out verified organizations and find out ways to help our elephants. This is our planet, and we all must reach out to help make this a viable planet for future generations of ALL animals.
For further information, and to hear what the nonprofit Elephant Voices has to say on the subject, see below.
"People frequently suggest dyeing tusks, or sawing them off, as a way to save elephants. To dye the tusk(s) of an elephant you need to dart and anaesthetise him or her, a risky process in itself for both the elephant and those involved. It is also a very costly operation, due to the aircraft, vehicles, the immobilizing drug and the number of people required to carry it out as safely as possible, but let's leave that aside for now. An elephant tusk is a modified incisor composed of dentine. Close to 1/3 of this tooth is embedded inside the elephant’s skull, which is why poached elephants are usually missing half their face - poachers or wildlife authorities have had to hack deep into their faces to extract the tusks from the skull. Chopping it out and keeping the elephant alive is pretty much impossible without severe mutilation.
An elephant's tusks continue to grow as the elephant ages - adding more than 2 cm per year. So dyeing an elephant’s tusks would in any case not be a permanent solution. Furthermore, dentine is a very hard substance, as you well know because your own teeth (under the enamel exterior) are made of dentine. Even if you could find a dye that coloured the surface of the tusks, what about the interior? Is that dye going to permeate though such a dense substance? We think it is highly unlikely, so even from this perspective dyeing is unlikely to deter poachers and their task masters. All considered, #ElephantVoices believes it is a waste of time to consider dyeing the tusks of elephants. Please share - to reduce the misinformation being spread around this issue."