Ivory Poachers have killed so many elephants for so long that increasing numbers of African elephants are being born without tusks just to survive.
As long as ivory continues to fetch a high price in luxury markets, there will continue to be poachers. Though demand for ivory is down in the West, there is still a booming trade in the material thanks to high demand in Asian markets. In just the past ten years, almost a third of African elephants were illegally slaughtered by poachers. Between 2007 and 2014, over 144,000 elephants were killed. Thanks to illegal poaching, elephants have not only been placed on the endangered species list, but their genetics have also become fundamentally altered.
Researchers have recently found that more elephants than ever before are being born tuskless, just so that they will survive poachers. In some areas, particularly in Central Africa, 98% of female elephants now have no tusks, compared to only 2 to 6% in years past. Not only that, the elephants that remain tusked now have tusks roughly half the size of elephants a century ago – as elephants with large tusks were heavily targeted by poachers and thus removed from the gene pool. The research team is headed by Dr. Joyce Poole, head of the charity “Elephant Voice.” She has been following African elephant populations closely for over 30 years and told The Times that there is a direct and very significant correlation between the number of elephants killed by poachers and the number of females born without tusks.
In Mozambique, 90% of the elephants in Gorongosa National Park were slaughtered between 1977 and 1992 while the country was ravaged by civil war. During this time, poachers consistently killed the elephants with the largest tusks. Although poaching is under control and the population is now recovering well, half of the female elephants over 35 years of age have no tusks while 30% of elephants born since are also tuskless. Another example of this trend was seen in the Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa where hunters killed all but 11 elephants before the park’s creation in 1931. Four of the eight surviving females were tuskless and now 98% of female elephants in the park also have no tusks.
Though being tuskless can protect elephants from poachers, it comes at a steep cost. Elephants have tusks for a reason as elephants rely on them for a variety of important activities, such as digging for food and water, manipulating branches for eating, self-defense, and sexual display. According to Poole, “an elephant without tusks is a crippled elephant.” It seems that the harmful effects of poaching are having a much broader impact than previously thought by fundamentally altering the genetics of the animals it targets.
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