Ivory Hunting Drives Evolution Of Tuskless Elephants

This is something we can see. I wonder what the things are that we can’t see.

Elephants without tusks had an advantage in areas where ivory poaching was prevalent. Credit: Peter Chadwick/Getty

Ivory Hunting Drives Evolution Of Tuskless Elephants

African elephants have evolved towards tusklessness in an area where they were intensively hunted for ivory, finds a study of elephants’ traits and genetics in Mozambique.

Ivory trading was used to finance a civil war in Mozambique from the late 1970s to early 1990s. Poaching caused the elephant population in the country’s Gorongosa National Park to crash by more than 90%, from more than 2,500 animals down to around 200 in the early 2000s.

If hunting does cause significant genetic changes to a small population of animals, Darimont notes, it can be very hard to restore the original traits.

For the elephants, selection for tuskless females [it only occurs in females] could have other knock-on effects. By looking at DNA in elephant faeces, the researchers learnt that tusked and tuskless animals eat different plants. “Because elephants are keystone species, changes in their diet can change the whole landscape.” … And because the tuskless trait is fatal to male offspring, it is likely that fewer elephants will be born overall.

“This is a wake-up call in terms of coming to grips with humans as a dominant evolutionary force on the planet.”

Humans aren’t just placing evolutionary pressure on elephants in Mozambique, or bighorn sheep in Canada (horn size); humans are interfering with the lifecycles of millions of living things on the planet.

One of the most comprehensive reports to date found that “around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.” Extinctions always happen. It’s the increased pace that’s a problem.

UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’, United Nations, May 2019

“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” said IPBES* Chair, Sir Robert Watson. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
* Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)

The 5 drivers of change in nature with the largest global impacts. (Hunting falls under number 2.)

I’m walking through this report now. Man, it’s hard to read.

1 thought on “Ivory Hunting Drives Evolution Of Tuskless Elephants

  1. Pingback: The Planet Has Become Our Dumping Ground | Fanatic Cook

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