Elephants Evolving To Lose Tusks Due To Years Of Ivory Poaching

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Researchers in Mozambique are working towards understanding the genetics of elephants who are born tuskless, and have discovered the trait has afforded them a ‘biological advantage’.

During the 15-year Mozambique civil war, 90 per cent of elephants in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park were slaughtered for their meat and ivory.

One third of female elephants born after the war, which ended in 1992, did not develop their tusks. This is unusual when you consider how normally, only two-to-four per cent of female African elephants would be born without tusks.

Researchers now believe elephant parents have passed the tuskless trait down to their offspring, as a means of protecting them from hunters.

As reported by National Geographic, University of Idaho behavioural ecologist Ryan Long said:

The prevalence of tusklessness in Addo is truly remarkable and underscores the fact that high levels of poaching pressure can do more than just remove individuals from a population,

[The] consequences of such dramatic changes in elephant populations are only just beginning to be explored.

According to the Mail Online, ecologist and conservation biologist, Dominique D’Emille Correia Gonçalves, said:

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.

Nature truly is fascinating.

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