Friday, June 21, 2024

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Poaching Has Forced Elephants to Evolve to No Longer Have Tusks

When one thinks of elephants, their defining traits are their trunks, large size, and their sought-after tusks. However, after almost a century of poaching, female elephants are beginning to be born without tusks.

A new report from Science went into detail that female elephants are beginning to evolve to no longer have tusks. While it wasn’t unheard of before for females to not have them, in the 1970s, only 18.5% of the female population didn’t have tusks.

Just three decades later, 51% of the female population does not.

Note: All of this data is looking at the elephant population in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park. The tuskless gene is not widespread throughout Africa.

Do Elephants Need Tusks?

Elephant tusks serve a variety of purposes in the wild.

They are used as a defense against predators, digging, lifting, food gathering, bark stripping, and more. However, poaching has left thousands of elephants without their tusk, and they can still survive.

In fact, according to the study, elephants without tusks are five times more likely to survive. This is mainly because they won’t become a target for poachers.

Why Is Poaching Elephants So Profitable?

Elephant tusks and rhino horns attract poachers, and both species are endangered as a result. Even though hunting these large mammals is illegal and very dangerous, there is no shortage of poachers willing to take the risk.

And sadly, that’s because it is very profitable.

Ivory is sought after for a variety of reasons. For many in Africa, it is a status symbol. Elephants are beloved and respected animals, so owning ivory from their tusks is seen as a mark of a certain station.

In some cultures, it is even part of the religious process.

However, the main driving factor would be China and other Asian nations. Ivory is used to make ornaments, Jewelry, and even medicine. Many believe owning items made from ivory will bring good luck, or just makes them look more successful.

After all, Ivory is more expensive than gold on the black market. And despite global regulations to stop it, the industry is doing quite well.

What About Male Elephants?

The researchers have determined exactly what is causing tuskless elephants to be born.

To keep it simple, females have two X Chromosomes. A tuskless female is born when one of these chromosomes is normal, and the other contains the tuskless information. However, this evolution is lethal to males.

The male population will not be born without tusks and as this trait becomes more common, it can lead to male elephants passing away in the womb. As you can imagine, this will become a serious problem for the elephant population.

However, researchers still need to do more studies on exactly why males do not survive the 22-month pregnancy.

There’s little doubt that this is an evolutionary response to illegal ivory poaching that has gone out of control for years. And the global pandemic has made it even tougher to fight poachers.

With both illegal poaching and climate change to deal with, these species need all of the help they can get.

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Robert Giaquinto

Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.

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