Why Do Elephants Have Tusks? (+ Important Facts)

Have you seen a full-body shot of an elephant? Elephants are very majestic mammals with their white tusks on the sides of their trunks. Let us learn more about elephant’s tusks.

So why do elephants have tusks? The tusks of the elephants are there so that they can use them to gather food, for protection for themselves, for lifting objects, and for digging.

You can very easily recognize elephants. Given their massive size and their unique body, you can recognize an elephant if you see one. Elephants are considered to be the largest living animal in the land. 

One feature of the very recognizable elephants is their tusks. The elephant’s tusks are made out of ivory, and elephant tusks are elongated incisor teeth. What you see in the tusks of the elephants is not the entire length of the tusk. 

The third of the elephant’s tusks are hidden from the view because they are embedded deeply into the elephant’s head. So the white tusks you see in the elephant’s trunk are the entire length of the elephant’s trunk. The one-third of the elephant’s tusks embedded deep into the elephant’s head are made out of tissues, nerves, and blood. 

On the other hand, the visible part of the elephant’s trunk is made out of dentine with enamel as the outer layer. Let us learn more about the elephant’s tusks and what the functions of these tusks are.

How Do Elephants Use Their Tusks?

Tusks have a lot of functions for elephants. You can find these tusks on both males and females for African elephants. However, on Asian elephants, you can see tusks on male elephants. 

Half of the Asian female elephants also have short tusks. These short tusks are called tushes. The tusks of the elephants have decreased in terms of size. 

You can already see baby tusks on baby elephants, but they are just milk teeth, and the baby tusks will fall out after a year added to their age. But you should know, though, that an elephant’s tusks are teeth. These elephant tusks are elongated incisors. 

Like humans, we also have our incisors. These elephant tusks will grow for the remaining years of their life. You can notice the tusks of the elephants. 

You will notice these tusks along with the massive size of the elephants. Unlike the incisors of humans, elephant incisors are used for a lot of activities. 

The incisors of the humans are just used for biting food, but the elephant’s incisors or their tusks can do a lot more than just for food. Listed below are four types of uses of an elephant’s tusks.

Related: Why Do Elephants Have Trunks?

Elephants Use Their Tusks For Protection

Elephant tusks can be used as protection. The tusks of the elephants are considered a formidable weapon. This formidable weapon will then be used to fight against potential predators. 

These predators include tigers or any other common predators in the wild. Elephant tusks are mainly used for defense. In the wild, each animal has their defense mechanism. 

When they feel attacked, they have their defense mechanism, and they would use it against their predator. This is why every animal has their defense mechanism. And these elephant’s tusks serve as their protection. 

They can use it to warn predators off or even knock predators off if they are already in a fight. Elephants in a safe environment do not have to use their tusks to ward off bad animals and predators. Still, in a more dangerous habitat, the elephants will be compelled to use their tusks to protect themselves against their enemies. 

These African elephants will use these tusks against other wildlife predators. They can also use these tusks if there is another elephant that they are in a fight with. 

Overall, the elephant’s tusk can be used as a weapon to keep them safe. So the elephant tusks are used for protection.

Elephants Use Their Tusks For Digging

Elephants also use their tusks for digging. When the dry season is commenced, these elephants will use their tusks to dig water holes in rivers with dried water. As you can see, the tusks of the elephants are mighty. 

They even use it as protection for predators, and they can also use it if other elephants are charging against them. Given that, the tusks of the elephants are mighty. The common challenge of some animals is the dry season. 

When it is all about sun and no rain, the riverbeds get dried up, and these animals will have no access to water. This is the time where elephants and even other animals are doing everything they can to find water. When this time comes, and everything is just dried up, elephants use their tusks to dig. 

These elephants will use their tusks to dig water holes in the dry riverbeds. In this way, these elephants will not starve to death because they now have access to some water. So aside from using elephant tusks for protection against predators, elephants can also use their tusks to dig holes in the ground, especially on dry waterbeds, so that they can find water and have access to the water.

Elephants Use Their Tusks For Lifting Objects

Elephant tusks are mighty, and they can also use them to lift objects. The structure of the elephant is not made to have arms to hold something. Instead, they are given a trunk and those tusks to hold or lift some objects. 

Elephants can lift wood or rock or any other objects that they will feel to hold. So if an elephant wants to lift something, it can use its tusks to do that. Elephant tusks are flexible because they have a lot of functions. 

They can use these tusks if they have to move something out of their way or they want to put or move something out of the way. So aside from the tusks serving as protection and serving as a digger to dig water on dry waterbeds, elephant tusks are also used for lifting objects. So whenever elephants want to move something out of their way, they can always use their tusks to lift objects and move them around.

Elephants Use Their Tusks For Gathering Food

This is the essential function of the elephant’s tusks. This is important because this is an innate drive, and elephants need food to survive just like every animal does. Elephants need food, and they can get food with the help of their tusks.

Can An Elephant Survive Without Tusks?

There is no definite answer to this because it varies. If you remove the tusks on one elephant, that elephant can die. However, some elephants would not die even if you take the tusks off. 

To those elephants who die when taking their tusks off, the reason lies in the fact that the tusks of the elephants are known to have a lot of calcium. If they are removed, there will be no calcium left for the elephant, and they can die. Another thing to consider also is that those who are getting the tusks of the elephants are intentionally killing the elephants because it will be easier for the tusks to remove by killing them.


In summary, elephants are strong, and so are their tusks. The tusks of the elephants are embedded deeply in their head. 

There is one-third of the elephant’s tusks hidden from the view. These tusks can be used for a lot of things, like picking food and protection.


Image credits – Canva

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I'm David, and safari has been my passion since I was a little boy - I grew up in South Africa. I love to help spread knowledge about safari, so let me know if you have any questions. Read more