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Elephants Are Evolving To Not Have Tusks Due To Poaching

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Elephants Are Evolving To Not Have Tusks Due To Poaching

Alongside the number of ivory trading bans put in place over the last several years, it looks like nature has taken matters into its own hands, as a number of elephants have evolved to lose their tusks following decades of ivory poaching.

It's a finding that adds to Darwin's theory of natural selection. National Geographic reported on the discovery, stating that during the Mozambican Civil War - which raged from 1977 to 1992 - 90 percent of the 4,000 elephants at the nation's Gorongosa National Park were killed so that their ivory could be used to exchange for weapons and their meat to feed soldiers.

Fast forward to the present day and research conducted by National Geographic explorer who studies the park's pachyderms, Joyce Poole, has found that around a third of the females from the generation born after the war ended are tuskless - a trait that appears to have been passed on from the adults who survived the war and are tuskless themselves.


For a bit of context, normally only around two to four percent of female African elephants would be born without tusks, so this is quite the jump.

A British Asian elephant. Credit: PA
A British Asian elephant. Credit: PA

Dominique D'Emille Correia Gonçalves, a PhD student from the University of Kent who is part of a team of scientists investigating the findings, told the Daily Mail: "Ivory poaching targets big tusked animals, so it removes the 'big tusk' gene out of the population.

"The elephant population today is derived from most of the elephants who survived the war, where they were heavily poached for their tusks.


"The key explanation is that in Gorongosa National Park, the tuskless elephants were the ones which eluded poaching during the civil war and passed this trait onto many of their daughters.

"These tuskless elephants are growing from the survivors of poaching so while we are not talking about evolution yet, we could be talking about the removal of certain genes from the population."

In addition to the changes in tusk development, Joyce's research also discovered what's described as a 'culture of aggression' amongst the female elephants, which is believed to be due to their need to protect their young during the war.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

Commenting on this phenomenon, Dominique described the 'culture of aggression' as 'intriguing', adding: "This is a big change, as anecdotal records from people that have been in Gorongosa before the war suggest the family units used to be calm and almost indifferent to people presence.

"Many of the matriarchs and lead females of the family units were alive during the slaughter and saw their families and friends being hunted.

"They are survivors and the trauma is still present, which would explain such intolerance to humans."

Apparently Mozambique isn't the only country where there's a rise of tuskless elephants, as the statistics show the same is happening in other heavy poaching areas such as Kenya and South Africa, indicating the horrifying and, quite frankly, depressing impact that humans have on animals.

Featured Image Credit: Mohan Raj (Creative Commons)

Topics: Extinct, World News, Africa, elephants, Poaching

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