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Tara and the tooth fairy

Hi there! My name is Kirby R., and I’m a member of the Elephant Care Team here at Zoo Atlanta. A few weeks ago, while cleaning one of the areas inside the Zambezi Elephant Center, another teammate and I found an elephant tooth that belonged to Tara! This was my first time finding a tooth fragment, and I couldn’t believe how large it was!

Elephants have four molars inside their mouths, with each about the size of a brick and weighing up to five pounds. Elephants go through six sets of these molars throughout their lifetime. As the existing set begins to wear down, the new teeth push the old, worn teeth from behind, eventually replacing them. Each time a new set of teeth surfaces, they are larger than the ones before! Also, the way an elephant chews is unlike other herbivores. Where other herbivores chew side to side, elephants chew their food forward and backward!

The most visible set of teeth remain outside of an elephant’s mouth. Elephants have two modified incisors (front teeth) that we call tusks. Did you know that tusk size is hereditary? With larger-tusked elephants being targeted by poachers and killed, over time, we are seeing elephants evolve to be smaller tusked.

We are losing an average of 96 elephants every day due to poaching and habitat loss. Here are three ways you can help support elephant conservation: 1) Do not purchase any ivory products. 2) Support local AZA-accredited zoos (like Zoo Atlanta!), as part of your ticket sale goes to conservation in the wild. 3) Spread awareness! By learning more about elephants and discussing what you learn with others, together we can inspire even more to care! (photo: Kirby R.)

Kirby R.
Keeper I, Elephants

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