In an amazing case of ‘evolution before our eyes’ more and more elephants are being born with no tusks. In African elephants it is usual for both male and females to grow tusks (which are actually elongated upper incisors and no different from their other teeth). In 1930 the figure of elephants born without tusks was 1% from a survey carried out at the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda.
We are all familiar with the consequences of poaching and how difficult it has been for national parks and rangers to protect these iconic species. These days, poachers are often part of organised crime operations, with sophisticated technology and equipment to get their hands on ivory. Anything from machine guns to night-vision goggles are being used. Because of the scale of the problem and the money involved it has made it very difficult for park officials to stay one step ahead.
These days, poachers are often part of organised crime operations, with sophisticated technology and equipment to get their hands on ivory
Once upon a time, African elephants roamed the continent in their millions, whereas today, as few as 700,000 remain. But it seems we aren’t the only ones in the fight against poachers. In a bizarre turn of events, elephants all over the world are increasingly being born without tusks. The number of these tusk-less elephants has increased from 10.5% to a staggering 38.2% in Zambia alone.
Nature fighting back
It’s thought that elephants without tusks are of no use to poachers, therefore, they are more likely to survive and pass on their tusk-less genetic mutation to their offspring. This is happening on a global scale, all over Africa, and in Asian elephants also. Although while it’s saving elephants from poachers, it’s too early to rejoice just yet. Tusks are what keep elephants safe. They use them in battle, defend their territory, and to dig for water and break up trees to eat. It’s unclear how the loss of these tusks will affect elephants in the long-term. It could reduce breeding success, reduce foraging success, and could lead to reduced growth due to a lack of ability to dig for water and access the best food.