African elephants are evolving to not grow tusks because of poachers

Greg Du Toit / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

  • Over time, many animals have adapted to their environments to avoid danger and natural predators.
  • It appears elephants have begun to adapt to being hunted by poachers for their tusks.
  • Currently, almost a third of the female elephant population in Mozambique does not have tusks.

Many animals really are masters of disguise, polar bears and arctic foxes being great examples. Both have adapted to blend into their surroundings as a response to predators.

However many animals have even more to worry about than being hunted out by other natural predators, as they’re also hunted by humans — and as the elephant is seriously threatened by poachers, it seems they’re adapting too.

Some believe ivory to have mysterious healing powers

Elephant ivory tusks and seized animal parts are burned during a ceremony to destroy confiscated wildlife parts in Myanmar. YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images

Elephants are hunted and slaughtered for their ivory, with poachers often shooting at elephants from helicopters or small planes, allowing the elephants very little chance of defending themselves or escaping.

The elephants are targeted for their tusks, which are said by some to have “restorative” or healing powers.

Despite having imposed a ban in late 2017, China is one of the nations where ivory is still more sought-after — and sometimes worth more — than gold. Ground and ingested, it’s touted not only as being a cure for numerous diseases, but also as a way of increasing virility, strength, and fertility.

Regardless of the fact that there’s no scientific basis to back the use of powdered ivory in Western medicine, elephants’ tusks are still traded for a considerable amount of money in many parts of Africa and Asia.

However, it seems “Mother Nature” is fighting back with a weapon of her own — evolution. As a recent piece published in National Geographic outlined, natural selection appears to be favoring elephants born without tusks.

Elephants are evolving new adaptations to poaching

According to National Geographic, scientists in Mozambique are now racing to get to grips with the genetics of elephants born without tusks, as well as the outcome of the trait.

Previously, between 2% and 4% of all the female elephants in Mozambique had no tusks but that figure has now soared to almost a third of the female elephant population.

‘Matt’, northern Kenyas largest known bull elephant, photographed in Lewa, Kenya, in 2016. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Elephant behavior expert and National Geographic Explorer, Joyce Poole, explained that poaching has a clear influence on elephants — not only in terms of their population size but also in terms of evolution.

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.

Read the original article on Business Insider Deutschland and has been translated from German. Copyright 2018. Follow Business Insider Deutschland on Twitter.