Prof Gerhard Steenkamp inspecting the tusk alongside Poznan Zoo veterinarians and staff.
Pretoria - Two University of Pretoria veterinarians have saved the life of a 5.5 ton African elephant at a Poznan Zoo in Poland by performing a surgical extraction of his damaged tusk.

Professor Gerhard Steenkamp, who teaches courses in dentistry and maxillofacial surgery of animals at Tuks Faculty of Veterinary Science, and Professor Adrian Tordiffe, a veterinary wildlife specialist, performed the five-hour surgery on the elephant.

It was revealed by the university that Ninio, as the elephant is affectionately known, suffered from a severe infection in July after a crack appeared at the bottom of his right tusk.

Tordiffe and Steenkamp first treated Ninio at the zoo in 2012 and 2013, when they extracted his left tusk. In 2015, they returned to Poland because Ninio had damaged his right tusk. Tordiffe said that Ninio had probably one of the biggest tusks they had ever dealt with

He said he dealt mainly with the anaesthesia and that a drug called etorphine, used in veterinary practice as a potent tranquillising painkiller for large animals, was used to help Ninio with the pain and putt him to sleep for the operation.

“I was able to ventilate him for about 30 minutes until his breathing improved, and while Steenkamp extracted the main part of the tusk quickly, he struggled to remove hard pieces of abnormal ivory that had formed deep in the tusk socket because of the infection.

“Using a massive drill, he tried to break up these pieces of hard ivory.”

The university said the pair has extensive experience and have performed many surgeries on elephants around the world.

“There are a few veterinary teams in the world that are capable of doing this kind of surgery. Tordiffe and Steenkamp have more experience in this kind of procedure than anyone else.”

Tordiffe said he has been working alongside Steenkamp on elephants for the last 10 year and they have been getting better at it over time.

UP said that last year it successfully extracted the tusk of an Asian elephant at Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia.

That procedure was filmed by the BBC for its Big Animal Surgery series, which aired in South Africa on BBC Earth channel on Monday.

Tordiffe said Ninio was in Poland in a “lovely big environment” where he roams around freely and is doing very well since the surgery.

“I contacted the vet and they have told me that he has been doing very well and behaving normally and does not appear to be in any pain so we are very pleased about that,” he said.

Pretoria News