After decades of “selecting against” elephants with the best ivory tusks, African elephants are now evolving to becoming almost completely tuskless. According to researchers, in some areas, almost 98% of female elephants have no tusks, in comparison to 2- 6% in the past.
Evolution on the Species
Tusks have evolutionarily benefited elephants in the past, serving as a tool to strip bark from trees, dig for food and water and perhaps fend off predators. However, in the past few decades, they also made them a major human target for ivory jewelry, and have served them a greater evolutionary disadvantage.
According to Joyce Poole, the head of charity Elephant Voices, told The Times that she has observed “a direct correlation between the intensity of poaching and the percentage of females born without tusks” in some of the herds she monitored.
In Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, 2 to 6 percent of female African elephants were recorded to be born tuskless in the past. However, after Mozambique’s civil war, the park had seen a severe amount of poaching between 1977 and 1992. Now 33 percent of females in the park are born without tusks.
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In Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa, 98 percent of females are now tuskless, after only 50 percent were tuskless in 1931.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Africa’s elephant population has declined by about 100,000 elephants since 2006, exclusively due to poaching.
“These new numbers reveal the truly alarming plight of the majestic elephant – one of the world’s most intelligent animals and the largest terrestrial mammal alive today,” IUCN Director General Inger Andersen said. “It is shocking but not surprising that poaching has taken such a dramatic toll on this iconic species.”
This has not been as effective on males. Almost all males are born with tusks. According to Joyce Poole, “Because males require tusks for fighting, tusklessness has been selected against in males and very few males are tuskless.”