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Tina, the Asian elephant, recovers after dental surgery

Date: 24 Apr 2012

Asian elephant

Belfast Zoo’s Asian elephant, Tina, is currently recovering after receiving dental surgery on Monday 23 April 2012.

Belfast Zoo keepers and zoo vet, Michael Griffith, noticed Tina’s discomfort and after investigating, they discovered that her tush (male Asian elephants have tusks but females have 'tushes', which are short second incisors) was broken and was sticking into her gum, causing infection. Most mammals grow baby teeth and then replace them with a permanent set of adult teeth. However, elephants have a set of 24 molars which are replaced six times in an elephant’s life. At the age of 46, Tina is currently on her sixth set of teeth and it was therefore vital that she received dental care.

We may go to the dentist when we have toothache but when you are an elephant at Belfast Zoo, one of world’s most specialised zoo dentists comes to you! Dr Peter Kertesz is usually based in his London dental surgery but regularly ‘walks on the wild side’ and has performed dental surgery on a range of exotic species around the world, including whales, giant pandas and elephants.

Dr Kertesz said, “We had to file off the sharp areas of Tina’s tooth. Her surgery went very smoothly, thanks to the work of everyone involved and she is well on her way to recovery. I feel extremely privileged that I can make a difference to the health and life of rare and endangered animals, such as Tina.”

Zoo curator, Alyn Cairns, said “A number of years ago, we made the decision to become a sanctuary for elderly non-breeding female elephants and this decision was not taken lightly. Caring for older elephants brings new challenges such as health management and the knowledge of our keepers and the people we work with, such as Dr Kertesz, is imperative when caring for our elephants in their later years.”