Elephants Evolving Without Tusks
Following years of illegal hunting, there is a rising number of female elephants being born in Mozambique without tusks. Those carrying out the research have concluded this is an evolutionary progression due to elephants being killed for their tusks.
Tuskless elephants survive
Those elephants that don’t have tusks have gone on to survive for longer, and therefore they are the ones that have had offspring. Their offspring have picked up that same tuskless characteristic resulting in more and more young elephants that don’t grow tusks.
Elephant tusks evolved originally from teeth, and gradually became a tool that the elephants used to dig water holes, strip bark from trees and protect themselves.
90% of elephants wiped out
In Mozambique the decline of elephants was rapid during the countries civil war between 1977 and 1992. About 90% of their elephant population was wiped out. Most of the animals were killed by soldiers who sold their tusks for ivory.
The elephants that survived beyond the war were those that were born without tusks as they were left alone by the hunters. Subsequently they passed their physical characteristic on to their offspring.
Not a beneficial evolution
Before the civil war, 18.5% of female elephants were born without tusks. This increased to 33% in females born between 1995 and 2004. On first impression it would seem that this evolution would benefit the elephant population given they won’t be hunted. However the genetic mutation that causes a female elephant to be tuskless is not beneficial within the male population. In fact it can be fatal. It is therefore not desirable for the mutation to continue, and the research concluded that it would be beneficial for the elephants to be hunted less so that the population can recover and the number of elephants with tusks can increase.
If you would like to find out more about elephant conservation and how to support it then please head to our Adopt an Elephant page