‘Female’ tusker report to be verified before news can be trumpeted

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By Malaka Rodrigo
The “hot” news in the wildlife circuit last week was that a female tusker had been spotted in the Yala National Park. Only male Asian elephants have tusks, and only a small percentage of male Asian elephants have tusks. So the reported sighting of a “female elephant with tusks” has naturally caused a stir, sparking debate among wildlife experts and even prompting search parties to go in pursuit of the unlikely creature. The idea of a young “female tusker” becomes especially intriguing among those who want to believe it exists.

Dr. Vijitha Perera, Wildlife Veterinarian Surgeon for the Southern Region, told the Sunday Times that field officers at Yala claimed to have seen what they assumed to be a “female” tusker, which showed no visible sign of male genitalia when it was passing urine.

According to Dr. Perera, it can be difficult to tell the sex of a young elephant that has not fully sexually matured. The tusker in question is believed to be about six years. In fact, this very difficulty makes it a challenge to determine the male:female ratio of the elephant population in a wildlife census.

Elephant tusks are elongated, continuously growing front teeth. Some male elephants and female elephants can have what are known as “tushes”, which is a small short tusk with no pulp inside. Tusks remain short, and are easily identified. Both sexes of the African elephants can have tusks, while only a minority of male of Asian elephants bears tusks.

Wildlife Department Director H. D. Ratnayake told the Sunday Times that a team headed by veteran elephant researcher, Professor Charles Santhiapillai, is to visit the game reserve to have a look at the elephant in question.

published on 27.11.2011 on SundayTimes http://www.sundaytimes.lk/111127/News/nws_25.html

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