Evolution is a constant process. Species continue to adapt in order to survive. Elephants are a case in point. Intense poaching for ivory during Mozambique’s Civil War decimated their population. As a result, elephants now evolve without tusks. More and more of them will never develop them, making it possible for them to survive.
The results are from the study published in ‘Science’. It shows how human hunting influences wild animal populations. The selective killing of species is intensive and indiscriminate many times. Therefore, it is now a powerful selective driver in the evolution of target species.
Shane Campbell-Staton and his colleagues at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) investigated it. They studied the impacts of ivory hunting on the evolution of African elephants. It was in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique.
There, the armed forces of both sides relied heavily on the ivory trade. It was how they financed the war effort. The elephant population fell by more than 90%.
Historical field data and population modeling were used. A direct effect of this years-long cull was demonstrated. It increased the frequency of total tusklessness in female elephants in the region. Elephants evolve without tusks to avoid becoming a target.
According to the authors, the marked absence of tuskless males suggested a genetic origin. There are a couple of candidate genes that would explain this. They have known roles in the development of mammalian teeth. And in the offspring of many of these elephants, it tends to disappear.
Elephants want to survive. Even if they have to evolve very quickly to do that.