African Elephants are Evolving to Not Grow Tusks Because of Poachers

Poachers focus on elephants with tusks — and spare those without. Shutterstock

Many animals really are masters of disguise, polar bears and arctic foxes being great examples. Both have adapted to blend into their surroundings as a response to predators.

However many animals have even more to worry about than being hunted out by other natural predators, as they’re also hunted by humans — and as the elephant is seriously threatened by poachers, it seems they’re adapting too.

Elephants are hunted and slaughtered for their ivory, with poachers often shooting at elephants from helicopters or small planes, allowing the elephants very little chance of defending themselves or escaping.

The elephants are targeted for their tusks, which are said by some to have “restorative” or healing powers.

Despite having imposed a ban in late 2017, China is one of the nations where ivory is still more sought-after — and sometimes worth more — than gold. Ground and ingested, it’s touted not only as being a cure for numerous diseases, but also as a way of increasing virility, strength, and fertility.

However, it seems “Mother Nature” is fighting back with a weapon of her own — evolution. As a recent piece published in National Geographic outlined, natural selection appears to be favoring elephants born without tusks.

According to National Geographic, scientists in Mozambique are now racing to get to grips with the genetics of elephants born without tusks, as well as the outcome of the trait.

Previously, between 2% and 4% of all the female elephants in Mozambique had no tusks but that figure has now soared to almost a third of the female elephant population.

Elephant behavior expert and National Geographic Explorer, Joyce Poole, explained that poaching has a clear influence on elephants — not only in terms of their population size but also in terms of evolution.

Hunting has given elephants that didn’t grow tusks a biological advantage in Gorongosa, as Poole explained, because poachers focus on elephants with tusks and spare those without.

By the the early 2000s, 98% of the approximately two hundred female elephants had no tusks. As scientists write, this is clear evidence of the pressure from hunting and how it can now affect a population leading to incredible evolutionary adaptations.

About Ifeatu Osegbo 114 Articles
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