Picture the Asian elephant without its elegant tusks. Ecological scientists filming the pachyderms for months together at the Kaziranga National Park in the north-east Indian state of Assam say this picture might become a reality in a few thousand years from now. The reasons, they figure, are two-fold. One, tusks are merely ornamental, not of much use to the animal and thus dispensable. And two, poaching pressures are rendering more and more elephants toothless.
Asian elephants are the largest mammals in Asia. Related females form herds around one matriarch and live in tropical and subtropical forests. Asian elephants need a lot of water—up to 225 liters per day—so the herds stick close to a fresh source. They can spend more than two thirds of each day feeding on grasses, but will also eat bark, roots, leaves and stems. Their proclivity for cultivated crops, like bananas, rice and sugarcane, can bring elephants into conflict with humans.