Elephant with one tusk

Read about how the spread of Thein Ko Gyi’s infection was halted by SPANA’s intervention.

In the tropical South East Asian country of Myanmar, elephants have been used for centuries for draught power, especially in forested areas without roads.

Thein Ko Gyi is a 19-year-old elephant that, for most of his life, has transported logs in a forest near the capital city of Naypyitaw. As the logging industry in this region slows as a result of stricter environmental legislation, Thein is now used for general transportation. His labour supports not only his mahout (keeper) Aung Ye Soe, but Aung’s entire family as well.

Thein Ko Gyi the elephant being treated by SPANA vets

Aung Ye Soe looks after his trusted elephant carefully, so when he noticed a growing area of black tissue around the elephant’s right tusk, he knew immediately that something was wrong. Although he kept the area clean, he was upset to see that the wound seemed to be getting worse over time and the elephant was in growing discomfort.

Without intervention, the wound could get badly infected and have serious implications for Thein’s health.  Although Aung and Thein live in a very remote region of Myanmar, help was at hand thanks to SPANA’s mobile clinics that visit the region regularly.

SPANA’S mobile clinic to the rescue

SPANA vet Dr Zaw had driven the six hours in to the heart of this jungle to reach the elephant and owner. After a quick health check, Dr Zaw identified the problem – a bacterial infection around the base of the tusk which, left untreated, could become a life-threatening problem. Unfortunately, tusk infections in large male elephants don’t respond well to treatment as the animal’s activity can leave the tusk prone to splitting and developing deeper infections. Although this infection could be treated, Dr Zaw knew that to prevent more serious and potentially fatal infections, he would have to remove Thein’s tusk.

To prevent Thein from experiencing any stress or discomfort during the procedure, Dr Zaw performed the operation under local anaesthesia. He quickly and painlessly removed the tusk and dressed the wound. To ensure that the tusk didn’t find its way into the illegal ivory trade, Dr Zaw brought the 81cm tusk directly to the government authorities where it could be disposed of immediately.

Dr Ben checking elephants mouth

Life with one tusk

Half a year later, SPANA’s UK Director of Veterinary Programs, Dr Ben Sturgeon, visited the SPANA Myanmar mobile vet team to check in on Thein and his owner’s progress since the procedure. Dr Ben joined and inspected what remained of Thein Ko Gyi’s tusk and was pleased to observe that it was healing perfectly and the bull elephant seemed to be completely accustomed to life with just one tusk. Aung Ye Soe still hadn’t started to work Thein Ko Gyi yet as he wanted to ensure he had recovered fully after the operation.


Aung Ye Soe told Dr Ben how pleased he was with the treatment. “I’m so happy that the infection was treated in time so it didn’t spread and cause Thein Ko Gyi any pain. Now he is still healthy and can help my family for many years to come.”

Elephant and mahoutElephant with tusk removedElephant with one tusk. and mahout.

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3 comments on “Concentrating on the Tusk in Hand

  1. Anne Martin on

    The suffering of working animals makes my heart sink but the work of SPANA makes it feel uplifted. I’m so glad to be able to contribute a tiny amount to that work. Thank you SPANA.

    • Linda Lomri on

      What fantastic work you are doing!

      But I feel so sad about the donkeys being killed for their skins for Chinese medicine! What can we do?

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