See exclusive footage of a space-age material being utilized to repair the tusk of the Birmingham Zoo’s beloved leader of the nation’s first all-male African Elephant herd!
When 35-year-old Bulwagi’s long-term tusk crack finally reached a point where a repair procedure was deemed necessary, the Birmingham Zoo staff contacted the director of the University of Alabama – Birmingham’s Materials Processing and Applications Development Center, Brian Pillay, Ph.D.
The resulting collaboration produced an innovative procedure that is the first of it’s kind, as this short documentary illustrates.
Scientific research is one of the 4 main staples in the Zoo’s mission to Inspire Passion for the Natural World. The Birmingham Zoo’s Trails of Africa Staff and Veterinary Staff showed how the Zoo works to fulfill the mission every day through an innovative procedure on one of the Zoo’s African bull elephants. Bulwagi, the Birmingham Zoo’s 35-year-old African bull elephant, had a long-term crack in his tusk. Elephants use their tusks for digging, lifting objects, gathering food, stripping bark to eat from trees and for protection. Through these actions, their tusks become worn and can break or crack.
On Thursday, November 5, 2015, Bulwagi underwent a procedure to prevent the crack in his tusk from growing which would happen if left unattended. This procedure was done in conjunction with a team lead by director of University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Materials Processing and Applications Development Center, Brian Pillay, Ph.D. The research team included Ben Willis, Engineer 1 for the Materials Processing and Applications Development (MPAD) Center, Kristin Hardin, Ph. D. student in materials engineering, David Smith, undergraduate student in biomedical engineering and Shivani Vashi, undergraduate student in material engineering. Under the guidance and direction of Dr. Pillay, the team was able to create a specialized resin and application process in hopes of preventing the crack in Bulwagi’s tusk from getting wider and longer. Due to the slow growth rate of the tusk, it will take months to assess if the application was successful.
The procedure performed on Bulwagi’s tusk will show whether this resin combination will be able to keep the crack in his tusk from growing. If successful, this may prove to be a new way to treat cracked elephant tusks in other zoos and elephant facilities.
The Trails of Africa exhibit designates the Birmingham Zoo as a national leader in the care and conservation of threatened elephants. We are the first accredited facility in the nation to successfully recreate an all-male African elephant herd as seen naturally in the wild. Click here to view interactions between the Zoo’s all-male African elephants!
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has joined the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) as a partner on the recently launched 96 Elephants Campaign – an effort focused on securing a U.S. moratorium on ivory sales, bolstering protection of African elephants and educating the public about the link between ivory consumption and the elephant poaching crisis. Your signature can make a difference in ceasing the ivory trade and ensuring the continued survival of these animals. To support this important cause and sign the 96 Elephants petition, please visit www.96elephants.org.