30,000 African Elephants Are Poached Each Year, Resulting in a Rapid Evolution of Tuskless Female Elephants

Africa’s elephant population is down to only four-hundred thousand. Still, thirty-thousand elephants are poached for ivory each year. Now, female African savanna elephants are increasingly evolving to be tuskless.

A new study, released by Science on October 22nd, examines the link between ivory poaching and the genetic evolution of African savanna elephants in Gorongosa National Park during the Mozambican Civil War. This civil war lasted from 1977 to 1992.

Warfare often results in higher exploitation of wildlife and, “organized violence has long been intertwined with the ivory trade.” The Mozambican Civil War decreased large herbivore populations by more than ninety percent and both sides of the fight sought out elephants for ivory.

According to the study, “Intensive poaching in Africa has been associated with an increase in the frequency of tuskless elephants, exclusively among females.” So far, there has been no record of tuskless male elephants in Gorongosa National Park.

According to the report, “Survey data revealed tusk-inheritance patterns were consistent with an X chromosome-linked dominant, male-lethal trait.” While the Gorongoas elephant population continues to decline, the rate of tuskless female elephants has increased nearly three-hundred percent.

Science also sought to figure out whether the increased amount of tuskless females was simply a coincidence or if the frequency was associated with this drastic population decline.

The population decline in Gorongosa was simulated, “under a scenario of equal survival probabilities for tusked and tuskless females.”

The report concluded that, “On the basis of these simulations, the observed increase in tusklessness is extremely unlikely to have occurred in the absence of selection.”

In other words, the relentless actions of poachers have strongly altered the evolutionary pattern of female African savanna elephants.

Mat Hayward –

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