Super-tusker elephants are African elephants that have genetically longer-than-average tusks. With less than 30 Super-tusker elephants left in Africa, the loss of one is significant news.
The recent death of a 60-year-old Super-tusker, known as ‘F_MU1’ and who was deemed, ‘the queen of elephants’, has saddened scientists and the public around the world. She does have another name, however only coded names are used for members of the public, to protect the security of the elephant, as they are usually named after the places they are found.
British photographer, Will Burrard-Lucas captured some stunning photographs of the elephant before she died and said the first time he saw her, he was ‘speechless’. F_MU1 died of natural causes, which pleased many conservationists, as more often that not, tuskers are killed by poachers. Burrard-Lucas said, “she had survived through periods of terrible poaching and it was a victory that her life was not ended prematurely by a snare, bullet or poisoned arrow.” Speaking on the experience of photographing the elephant, he said, ‘It was a feeling of privilege and euphoria that will stay with me forever.’
Though F_MU1 died naturally, two years ago, a 50-year-old Super-tusker called Satao II, was killed near the Tsavo National Park border. Most of the elephants still alive live in Tsavo East National Park, where they are carefully managed and supervised for protection. However, Satao wandered too far across the borders and was killed. Tusker elephants are hunted by the ivory trade because their tusks are rare due to their ability to get so long without breaking. Dr Mark Jones, from the Born Free wildlife charity said: “Super-tuskers are very rare these days, precisely because their big tusks makes them prime targets for trophy hunters.” He added, “as these animals are all-too-often taken out before they have reached their reproductive prime, Super-tusker genes are being bred out of elephant populations, and we could very well be seeing the last of them.”
Adult male’s tusks are known to grow up to 18 cm (7 inch) per year. Therefore, the longer an elephant lives for, the larger their tusks will grow to be. ‘Tuskers’ have a genetic variation which means their tusks grow even faster than usual. F_MU1’s tusks brushed the ground when she walked. Ian Redmond OBE, a renowned conservationist specialising in elephants and apes, said, “An elephant will grow more ivory in the last ten years of its life, than in the first ten or twenty.”
With China shutting down ivory factories in 2017, this is good news for the elephants, as that is where much of the ivory previously went to. China continues to work with the African Wildlife foundation to do what it can to prevent elephant hunting. There are around 415, 000 African elephants left in the wild, but with 100 elephants being poached a day, without intervention, they could be extinct in the next decade.