November 9, 2018

3:04 pm

More Elephants Than Ever Are Being Born Without Tusks

More and more elephants are being born without tusks -- a distinct advantage in a world that values ivory far higher than living elephants. It's a strategy of nature that we've seen play out again and again and it is distinctly Darwinian. Thirty years ago, tusklessness was a mutant gene that occurred in 3-4% of elephants. In southern Africa, that percentage has jumped up to between thirty and ninety percent of female elephants born today.

The conundrum? Evolution is supposed to take millions or billions of years to render any meaningful changes in a species so what in the heck is going on?

The short answer: humans.

Due to decades of poaching, evolution has been forced to react in real time. The tuskless elephants are much less valuable and so much more likely to survive than their tusky peers.

This might seem like a boon for the elephant, or like nature is giving humans a well-earned middle finger. Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. Elephant tusks were never decorative, they have a distinctly functional purpose.

"Elephants use their tusks to strip bark from trees, to dig holes, for defense, and for lifting objects, among other uses." Inquisitr reported. "So an elephant born without tusks would be at a disadvantage, at least compared to other elephants."

“The prevalence of tusklessness... is truly remarkable and underscores the fact that high levels of poaching pressure can do more than just remove individuals from a population,” Ryan Long, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Idaho tells National Geographic. "Consequences of such dramatic changes in elephant populations are only just beginning to be explored.”