Equilibrium/Sustainability

Scientists say ivory poaching has led to 'rapid evolution' of tuskless elephants

Ivory poaching has led to a "rapid evolution" of tusk-less elephants, a study published in Science on Thursday stated.

The study focused on African elephants in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique before and after the civil war from 1977 to 1992, when poaching efforts for ivory were highest, ABC News reported

The elephant population declined by more than 90 percent during the war, ABC reported, and the hunting of elephants for their tusks "resulted in a phenotype of the species that had a better chance of survival," it said: female elephants.

With both sides in the war using ivory to finance their war efforts, tusk-less female elephants were more likely to survive during the war than females with tusks. Due to the advantage in survival, elephants quickly started having female children that could not develop tusks. 

Only about 50 percent of the children from female elephants are developing tusks after the war, Shane Campbell-Staton, an evolutionary biologist at Princeton University, told ABC News.

"The selective killing of species - whether for food, safety, or profit - has only become more common and intense as human populations and technology have grown," the authors said in the research. "So much so, it's suggested that wildlife exploitation by humans has become a powerful selective driver in the evolution of targeted species."

Regions with the most intensive poaching see the least amount of female elephants with tusks. Male elephants weren't affected due to the genetics behind their tooth development, according to the ABC report.

Campbell-Staton said as long as ivory poaching declines, the evolutionary change can reverse and female elephants will be able to develop their tusks again.

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