Zoo makes Kevlar caps for elephant’s tusks

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Oh Billy.jpg

The Denver Zoo called an aerospace engineer for help with dental problem.  Bill the elephant kept wearing down his tusks which could lead to infection.  Zoo staff needed a solution other than metal caps that would distract the playful Billy.  The result was a lightweight, ivory-colored cap made of fiberglass and Kevlar.  Kudos to the team in Denver for their innovative solution to maintain Billy’s health!  From the Denver Post:

Denver Zoo develops advanced technology to repair elephant tusks

Now, the zoo is being contacted by zoos across the country, asking for tips of the tusk trade.

By Elizabeth Hernandez The Denver Post

Posted:   02/12/2016

Billy had the elephant equivalent of a cracked tooth that needed a crown.

The solution — part dentistry, part engineering — patched up Billy and could help zoo animals around the world.

Billy, a 7-year-old Asian elephant who came to the Denver Zoo in 2013, is considered a kid at heart who loves digging in the dirt with his tusks, eating melons, tossing logs around and swimming. The pachyderm’s playful spirit started taking a toll on his tusks — modified teeth that continuously grow throughout elephants’ lives.

When zoo staff members Rachael Chappell and Dennis Donovan and zoo veterinarian Betsy Stringer noticed wear and tear on Billy’s tusks last April, they wanted to take action before the inner tusk became exposed and infection set in.

The team knew they would have to cap Billy’s tusks to protect them, but pre-existing caps were a cumbersome eyesore, often made of an eye-catching metal that would distract a young, inquisitive elephant like Billy.

“We decided it’s 2016, and we’re the Denver Zoo,” Donovan said. “Rachael mentioned they make carbon fiber wedding rings that are durable, and it just went from there.”

They contacted a local aerospace engineer who designed a lightweight, nonintrusive cap in about two weeks that would be fitted to Billy’s left tusk and would take the brunt of his horseplay.

The cap — made of fiberglass layers — matches Billy’s ivory and looks like the head of a cotton swab stuck on the end of his tusk.

“Billy’s very ‘Ooh, shiny object,’ ” Chappell said. “With this cap, he’s less likely to mess with it.”

Other benefits of the innovation include the ability to X-ray Billy to check on his tusk growth, which is not possible with the typical metal cap…

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