Turning objections into challenges

Daily Brew you can't stain elephant tusksYahoo Canada ran a “Daily Brew” article a few days ago about staining tusks to stop poaching. The expert quoted, Anne Lambert of the Internat’l Conservation Fund of Canada, says, “Darting and applying dye to elephants would involve a huge cost and stress and risk to elephants.”

I agree with this.

Ms Lambert dismisses the idea of staining tusks as thus “impractical to impossible.”

That I disagree with.

painting elephant tusks pink poorly

Wildlife experts say this is how NOT to stain an elephant’s tusks. Yes, I think we’d all agree on that. So, how can we do it? (photo Sayyid Azim AP, w Photoshop’g)

The objection is that you can’t knock out the elephants and paint their tusks.

The challenge then is how to deliver the dye into their system in something they’ll eat or maybe in something off-the-wall like a skin patch (like a nicotine patch) that has been plunked onto the elephant’s flank by flatheaded arrow spread with a bit of 3M’s finest adhesive. Without tranquilizers and with no stress. No impractical and expensive teams of elephant handlers.

dyeing elephant tusks with doum

This might be one way to stain tusks. Tanzanian elephant enjoys a ripe doum fruit. Doums are quite a healthy snack which might well be healthier laced with a bit of indelible dye…

You’ll probably need several doses of dye to stain the tusks fully, and elephants are suspicious eaters, so it’s an ornery problem. Still, doesn’t it seem manageable enough to look into? (Laugh, but Nestles makes pet food. I’d ask them for suggestions – and funding. Or Clairol. You think that they’ve never thought about the market potential of hair dye in a pill?)

If you have suggestions on how to proceed, please comment. If this is a non-starter, tell me why.

Why stain tusks to fight poaching?

I go into this at All We Do for the Elephants . . . Exactly, but let’s take the example of Tanzania. Poaching there has been intractable. 65,000 or 60% of their elephants were killed in 5 years. The government is thought to be complicit in poaching and ivory smuggling. (Officially, the government takes a “Who? Us?” line. To them, the loss of 12,000 elephants in one reserve is “the greatest wildlife mystery ever.”)

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Towards a Pink Future

Visits to this site have jumped recently. This elephant pic seems to be playing an out-sized role in the jump.

Elephant whitened tusks before pink

The dolled-up, Photoshop’d version is making the rounds on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest.

Pink Elephant Tusks courtesy PhotoShop

One day, I hope that the pink will be real – if significantly paler. (Elephants don’t see reds well, so pink may be a good choice.)

This site doesn’t have the answer. The intent is to make the idea plausible enough to intrigue the right people to explore it.

Please comment with suggestions. Please link to this site. If you can’t research it, you can still help. Please forward the site to someone you know of who might look into it.

Like who?

The choice of stain to use is the biggest hurdle, so send it to someone you know who develops non-toxic dyes at a food company. Or that hair color chemist you met who works at L’Oreal.

Or the neighbor who stains bone samples for research (histotechnologist).

Or your brother’s cosmetic dentist who – for something different – might like to figure out how to stain teeth pink rather bleach them white.

Or that nice ivory conservator who might open up about what stains she’s never been able to remove.

Sure, staining tusks is a fringe idea, but I wonder about it because our current anti-poaching strategies are problematic. I go into this at All We Do For the Elephants . . . Exactly. The piece on MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) might be the best introduction to the issues.

Ectopic bone formation induced by sonoporation

Some snapshots (@ 5 microns) of ectopic bone formation, using 2 different staining techniques. Were the stains injected into a person or into a specimen after extraction? Could the dyes be made indelible? Could the staining be scaled up for something the size of a tusk. (fyi, BF = bone formation, BM = bone marrow, M = muscle.) source

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