Environment
Fact-checked

At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

How Have Conflict and Ivory Poaching Impacted Elephant Evolution?

Conflict and ivory poaching have exerted a stark pressure on elephant populations, accelerating evolutionary changes. Tuskless elephants, once rare, are becoming more common as a survival response to poaching. This shift could have profound effects on elephant societies and ecosystems. How might these changes shape the future of these majestic creatures? Join us as we examine the consequences.

Charles Darwin is well known for his work on natural selection, the process by which the members of a species adapt and change physically over time, producing offspring with traits that make them better suited to their environments.

Usually, these advantageous traits take hundreds of years (or more) to significantly alter a population. But scientists have now documented changes in the elephants of Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique – in only 15 years. More than 90 percent of the park's tusked elephants were killed during civil war in the African country between 1977 and 1992. Elephants without tusks were left alone, as they weren't valuable to poachers.

As a result of civil war and ivory poaching that killed most of the tusked elephants in Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park, a greater proportion of elephants have inherited the tusklessness gene.
As a result of civil war and ivory poaching that killed most of the tusked elephants in Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park, a greater proportion of elephants have inherited the tusklessness gene.

Today, researchers have pinpointed how those years led to a greater number of elephants that will never develop tusks. “What I think this study shows is ... the impacts that people have. We’re literally changing the anatomy of animals,” explained researcher Robert Pringle of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University.

Terrific, terrifying tusks:

  • A set of tusks allows elephants to dig for water, strip bark from trees for food, and joust with other elephants. Before the Mozambique fighting, a fifth of females lacked tusks. Today, half the females are tuskless.

  • Genes determine whether elephants inherit tusks from their parents. Although tusklessness was once rare in African savannah elephants, it's become more common, according to extensive DNA analysis.

  • Scientists are also studying what more tuskless elephants means for its savannah environment. Fecal analysis suggests that the Gorongosa elephants are eating more grass, and fewer legumes and woody plants.

You might also Like

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register:
    • As a result of civil war and ivory poaching that killed most of the tusked elephants in Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park, a greater proportion of elephants have inherited the tusklessness gene.
      As a result of civil war and ivory poaching that killed most of the tusked elephants in Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park, a greater proportion of elephants have inherited the tusklessness gene.