The world-record tusks, taken from an elephant shot near Mt. Kilimanjaro in 1898 by an African slave of the ivory trader Shunti, a Zanzibar Arab.

Major tusk: Weight 226 lbs. / Length 10 ft. 2,5 in. / Circumference 24,25 in.
Minor tusk: Weight 214 lbs. / Length 10 ft. 5,5 in. / Circumference 23,5 in.

(AFRICAN Hunter by James Mellon)

The Big Game

As children in the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s, we grew up in the southern highlands of Tanzania amongst an ‘old school’ community of expatriate tea planters, many of whom indulged in hunting, shooting and fishing in their spare time. On Tuesday afternoons, we would often wind up at the Luisenga Fishing Lodge overlooking a trout dam in the midst of the tea plantations, listening to tales of walking safaris, adventure and derring-do.

Several times over the years there would be talk of an old bull elephant, whose tusks were so long and heavy that they frequently left deep grooves in the ground. This living relic had been stalked by many an experienced tracker, but to no avail. Each time, despite painstaking days of careful pursuit through scorching dry and arid bush, the old bull would frustratingly simply disappear.Tea planters Alex Boswell and Trevor Walker both claimed to have approached him at very close range; so had the late Bill Moore-Gilbert, a game ranger at Manyoni, who dreamed of selling the tusks to pay for his children’s school fees. They all guessed that this wily old tusker somehow got away every time by slipping away into the impenetrable Itigi thickets.

Then, one day in 1971, Ruaha warden John Savidge received Intelligence of a lorry heading out from Pawaga village loaded with very heavy tusks. He and his rangers gave chase and caught up with it just before the town of Iringa. In the back, they discovered a massive pair of tusks.

The hunter, an Iringa policeman, produced a valid licence, but Savidge insisted that he take him to the remains of the carcass. Savidge seized the tusks and asked Alan Rodgers, the Game Department biologist, to come up from Dar to assist with the investigation. Over several weeks, the policeman showed them several more carcasses, but the skulls were all too small. He couldn’t exactly remember where he had shot the elephant.

A year later Savidge spotted what he felt were probably the remains of the old tusker, deep inside the eastern boundary of the park. The pair of tusks were confiscated, but no case was ever brought against the policeman.

John once recounted to me that he had spotted a single tusk on the ground even bigger than those pictured; he dispatched his rangers to retrieve it. This tusk, he said, weighed well over 200lb. But he often wondered where in the world it eventually ended up. One day, while sharing a flight with Alan, he told me about how he had taken the now famous photograph of this pair of tusks framed on either side by game scouts. He had given a copy to a friend. Years later, it appeared in James Mellon’s famous book African Hunter.

For years, these tusks have been the centre of controversy. There have also been numerous rumours. One of them maintains that they were switched after an exhibition in Hungary. Certainly, the big pair that I often saw resting incongruously against a pillar in the ‘Ivory Room’ did not appear to the same weight as recorded by Jonny Niblett in the 1978 version of Rowland Ward’s Records of Big Game. Here the statistics referred to the right tusk as weighing 193.7 lbs with a length 8’11.5” and circumference of 24.5”; the left tusk had a weight 188.9 lbs, length 8’8” and 24.25” circumference.

The world record for the heaviest pair of elephant tusks can be currently in the Natural History Museum of London.