African Elephants Are Evolving Without Tusks Due To Extreme Poaching On The Continent
About 60 percent of elephants found in one Zambian region are tuskless.
March 28, 2019 at 6:38 pm
Poaching on the African continent has become so rampant that elephants are evolving without tusks, reports claim.
The lasting impact of poaching may change the physical and internal make-up of elephants. According to ABC News, elephants living in nature preserves in Gorongosa National Park, located in central Mozambique, have noticeable differences in terms of behavior and appearance.
Scientists observed that these elephants had smaller tusks.
The changes are traced from one of the country's defining political events. Roughly 30 years ago, the nation was engulfed in a civil war where 90 percent of the elephant population was decimated due to extreme poaching.
CBS News reports about 200 female elephants survived and their offspring were more likely to receive their tuskless genes. The war ended in 1992. Usually, about four to six percent of female elephants are tuskless. In the past three decades, that number is gradually climbing.
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In North Luangwa, Zambia, about 60 percent of the elephants found there were tuskless based on the research of Dr. Michael D. Kock.
"The tusked gene predominates in the population under normal circumstances," Kock told ABC News. "Preventing the killing of tusked elephants and a growth rate of 8 percent or more will see the ratio revert closer to normal. This is not natural selection but poaching pressure selection!"
Ryan Long, assistant professor of wildlife sciences at the University of Idaho, told CBS News the tuskless gene was primarily a female genetic trait. He also attributes the rampant poaching to the problem.
"There's multiple things that could produce that sort of thing in elephant populations, but the leading hypothesis ... is that there's been a substantial amount of pressure placed on those populations by poachers," Long told CBS News.
Short, or barely visible, tusks are seen as unattractive to poachers. Most male and female elephants with long tusks are systematically removed from the mating pool, therefore, changing elephants as a whole.
"If you don't have big tusks, you may not breed [if you're a male elephant]," Long said. "Whereas for female elephants, there's always been a background level of tusklessness in most elephant populations that aren't subjected to poaching pressure."
Long said that big tusks are more important for male elephants. Without them, they are not seen as suitable mates. Essentially, elephants will have to redefine what attracts each other if the poaching epidemic continues to go unchecked.
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