Video: Elephant's tusk operation risky, grueling

updated 2/20/2007 3:24:52 AM ET 2007-02-20T08:24:52

The next time you dread a trip to the dentist, consider the plight of poor Tusko the elephant.

It took veterinarians and a dentist nearly five hours Saturday to remove what was left of an elephant’s infected tusk at the Oregon Zoo, and it took a chain saw, handsaws and a drill that can punch through concrete to do the job.

At least 20 people worked from midmorning to early afternoon to remove the rock-hard ivory, which was extracted in foot-long, bloody slabs. A ring the size of a roll of duct tape remains; veterinarians plan to go after it in about six weeks.

Tusko, who weighs about 13,500 pounds, broke both tusks decades ago. The right tusk was removed when he was young. Years ago, a veterinarian sawed the left tusk off flush with Tusko’s lip, hoping it would heal. But infection persisted.

Oregon Zoo veterinarian Mitch Finnegan said the procedure posed a risk, but feared leaving the long-term infection untreated posed a greater one. Finnegan feared that Tusko would be too weak to stand when the anesthesia wore off, or that if he did stand, he might fall.

But Tusko started to move his legs, then rocked his body back and forth before sitting up and slowly standing.

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