Elephants evolving without tusks due to poaching
Brad Hunter
January 14, 2019
January 14, 2019 2:00 PM EST
Are elephants evolving to not have tusks in the wake of a bloody civil war in Mozambique? GETTY IMAGES
Despite bloody civil wars, an insatiable Asian ivory market and a myriad of other threats, it appears Africa’s beloved elephants might just be saving themselves.
Scientists believe that the pachyderms are evolving to not grow tusks in an evolutionary sleight of hand.
About 90% of the elephant population in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park were butchered for their ivory to buy weapons during the nation’s 16-year-old civil war.
Now, around a third of females — the generation born after the war ended in 1992 — have not developed tusks.
Elephants use their trunks to smell for possible danger in the Tsavo East national park, Kenya. Some are evolving to not have tusks, foiling poachers. Karel Prinsloo / AP
And parents are passing the trait onto their babies, making the animals less appealing to poachers.
“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,” University of Kent researcher Dominique D’Emille Correia Goncalves told the Daily Mail.
“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.”
U.S. President Donald Trump has lifted the ban on importing elephant heads killed by American big game hunters. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
In addition, the elephants have become more intolerant of people and vehicles.
The scientist says that prior to the civil war, the elephants were typically calm, docile and indifferent to the presence of humans.
“Many of the matriarchs and lead females of the family units were alive during the slaughter and saw their families and friends being hunted,” Correia Goncalves said.
“They are survivors and the trauma is still present, which would explain such intolerance to humans.”
She added: “We are now conducting genetic studies of our elephant population to understand if there is a behavioural syndrome that could be identified.”
Other nations have also seen a drop in elephants growing tusks.
In South Africa, 98% of the 174 females in Addo Elephant National Park reportedly did not grow tusks in the early 2000s.