African Elephants Are Evolving To Not Grow Tusks Because Of Poachers

We have all heard the sad stories about what takes place when elephants are captured by poachers. These poachers will dedicate their time and energy to hunting these animals, in hopes of selling their ivory tusks on the black market. However, the elephants are now evolving in a manner that will cause much consternation in the poaching community.

Experts believe that the elephants are now being born without tusks, as a natural response to the poaching that is taking place. While there are a wide range of reasons why such an evolution could be occurring, this is the primary hypothesis at the moment. It makes a great deal of sense, doesn’t it? The elephant populations have been experiencing a sizable amount of distress because of the problems that poachers present, says Ryan Long.

Long works at the University of Idaho as an assistant professor of wildlife sciences. He’s spent time studying African elephants in Mozambique at the Gorongosa National Park. This nation experienced a civil war during the 1970s that stretched into the 1990s. Many elephants were killed off during this time period. Poachers believed that their ivory contained restorative properties and sought it out for that reason.

Before the current shift, roughly five percent of all female elephants had no tusks. Now, that number has climbed to 33 percent. These elephants can still survive without their tusks but they serve key purposes. They allow the animals to forage for food underground. Trees are debarked when the elephants seek valuable nourishment and this is why some experts find themselves worried about what is currently taking place.

Male elephants also use their tusks to compete for the affection of various females. A male elephant needs to make use of their tusks far more often than one of their female counterparts. As a result, the female elephants are adjusting to the evolution a bit more easily. If a male elephant does not have sizable tusks, their ability to breed is hindered significantly.

“If you don’t have big tusks, you may not breed,” says Long. This is a concern that researchers will be looking to address going forward. Experts are currently unsure about the long term ripple effects of this evolution. Some believe that elephants will one day be without tusks altogether. For example, the cow was once equipped with tusks before evolution removed them from the equation. While there are some who are nervous, it is believed that the elephants will be perfectly okay.

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