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African Elephants Are Being Born Without The Ability To Grow Tusks As A Response To Poaching

African Elephants Are Being Born Without The Ability To Grow Tusks As A Response To Poaching

For clear proof of evolution, look no further than the plains of Africa, where elephants have rapidly adapted to avoid the most pressing threat to their existence: poachers. It's well known that poachers illegally kill wild elephants for their ivory tusks, which fetch a hefty price on the market. In response, according to scientists in Mozambique, elephants made a dramatic change—many are now born without tusks, giving poachers no reason to hunt them.

Scientists like National Geographic elephant expert Joyce Poole are now trying to understand how a lack of tusks will effect elephants and their place in the African ecosystem. The disappearance of a prominent allele from their genepool may have no notable effect on their surroundings, or it may represent a massive shift in how the pachyderms interact with their environment. When dealing with such complex systems, scientists can often make predictions, but only time can reveal the truth.

According to an article from Business Insider, historically "between 2% and 4% of all the female elephants in Mozambique had no tusks." As pressure from hunters caused tusks to be a liability in terms of survival, however, that statistic has ballooned rapidly:

"Hunting has given elephants that didn't grow tusks a biological advantage in Gorongosa, as Poole explained, because poachers focus on elephants with tusks and spare those without. By the the early 2000s, 98% of the approximately two hundred female elephants had no tusks. As scientists write, this is clear evidence of the pressure from hunting and how it can now affect a population leading to incredible evolutionary adaptations."

The ivory tusks of elephants have no proven medicinal value, but superstition continues to insist the ground horns are "a cure for numerous diseases, but also as a way of increasing virility, strength, and fertility." Though most countries ban the trade elephant ivory, there is still a large demand for it in eastern countries like China, causing poachers to break the law in an effort to make money.

Poachers are known to shoot at elephants from above, perching off of helicopters so the animals cannot fight back as they are gunned down. Once the elephant is dead, the men will remove the tusks from their bodies and move on.

On Twitter, people were amazed by the awesome powers of evolution:

It's still unclear how a lack of tusks will effect the elephants of the future, but it's definitely bad news for the poachers of the present.

H/T - Joe, Business Insider