Thanks to poachers and the evolutionary process, elephants are increasingly being born without tusks.
In efforts to meet the ivory demand in Asia, almost a third of elephants have been illegally slaughtered over the past ten years by poachers. As a result of the practice, 98 percent of female elephants in some areas now have no tusks according to researchers.
Joyce Pool of the charity Elephant Voices says that there’s a direct correlation between poaching activities and females born tuskless.
“Females who are tuskless are more likely to produce tuskless offspring,” she told The Times.
About 144,000 African elephants were killed for their tusks between 2007 and 2014. Of the populations that do survive, researchers warn that they could become virtually tuskless like their Asian cousins.
According to Poole, poachers that disproportionately targeted tusked elephants in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique between 1977 and 1992, caused half of the females over 35-years-old to have no tusks. Although poaching is now under control, the tuskless gene is getting passed down to the female offspring.
In 2008, scientists found that even among elephants that had tusks, the tusks were smaller than in elephants from a century ago.
While virtually no male elephants are tuskless (they need tusks to fight), about 2 percent of female elephants are naturally tuskless. Among female elephants in Gorongosa who were adults during the civil war, however, half are tuskless—the others were simply killed. But tusklessness is an inheritable trait. That means that, even though poaching levels have fallen, a third of Gorongos’s young female population is tuskless today.
For elephants, tusks are essential when it comes to digging for food and water, self-defense, and diplaying sexual prowess.
In the video below, Poole talks more about the phenomenon:
Featured image via screen grab