Evolution does not have to take thousands of years, it often manifests itself over several decades. In order for animals to survive certain conditions, evolution changes their bodies as needed. A new study published in Science magazine found that intensive elephant hunting caused them to be born without tusks. There is a rare phenomenon in Gorongosa National Park, intensive poaching has directly influenced evolution here.
Intense poaching in Mozambique
Elephants were hunted for tusks that financed Mozambique’s civil war. The local elephant population was on the verge of extinction. Before the war broke out, only 18.5% of female elephants were born without tusks. Since the early 1990s, 33% of elephants have been born without tusks. Elephants in Mozambique faced a cruel massacre. The country’s civil war lasted from 1977 to 1992. During this period, 90% of the elephants were killed. Whether or not elephants will have tusks is decided by the genes they inherit from their ancestors.
When an elephant is without tusks, poachers will not catch it. An elephant-free elephant passes on his genes to his offspring, who are also born without tusks. This trend occurs only in female elephants. The elephant genome has been thoroughly studied in both tusked and elephants without tusks. The trend was linked to a mutation on the X chromosome that was fatal to males, which did not develop properly in the womb, and dominant in females.
One of the authors of the study is Professor Robert Pringle of Princeton University. According to him, this genetic trait is lethal to males and although it will protect females, it will be a complication for species recovery. Only about 700 elephants now live in the park. Being born without tusks helped the elephants during the war, but now it’s a problem. As poaching has been reduced, it is possible that evolution will return tusks to other elephant offspring. It is interesting how quickly evolution can react to protect an animal species, but this is not the only example of how quickly evolution can help animals or plants survive.