What the tusk?
After centuries of being hunted by humans for ivory, African elephants are evolving to be tuskless.
As National Geographic reports, the tusks on male elephants — a sign of virility among the gentle giants — are notably shrinking in size thanks to the effects of ivory poaching.
Meanwhile, more females are being born without their long, majestic front teeth than ever before, especially in places where the effects of the ivory trade have been particularly devastating.
That’s true in Mozambique, where 15 years of civil war were financed, in part, by the sale of illegal ivory. Of the female elephants that survived, many were naturally tuskless, which meant they evaded the deadly attention of hunters.
Now, these remaining ladies are passing down the tuskless trait to a new generation of daughters. Experts say that before the war, only 2 to 4 percent of girl calves would be born without their coveted front teeth, which are smaller than those of their male counterparts. Today, roughly a third of the females born after 1992 — the year the war in Mozambique ended — never developed any tusks at all.
Sadly, there’s little doubt that this development is a direct result of the human desire for ivory.
Elephant tusks are not just glorious-looking; they have important uses for the colossal animals, which include self-defense and digging. Scientists are just beginning to track the newly tuskless among them, to see how this unfortunate adaptation affects the species.
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