African elephants ‘evolving’ to have no tusks

Image copyright AFP Image caption Tests of 26 elephants found the antlers of most creatures were either wiped out or of low-quality horn Elephants in Africa are evolving to have no tusks and get…

African elephants 'evolving' to have no tusks

Image copyright AFP Image caption Tests of 26 elephants found the antlers of most creatures were either wiped out or of low-quality horn

Elephants in Africa are evolving to have no tusks and get rid of the antlers they do have as a response to increasingly lethal poaching.

Scientists say that it is very rare for an elephant to have both a thickly muscled form of tusk and a less thickly muscled one.

Elephants become tuskless when the outer layer of bone in the front of the tusk becomes eroded away by stress, stress eating and the changing wind.

This can often occur over the course of one or more winters.

“This behaviour is further emphasised because, despite high levels of poaching, documented evidence suggests that there is no recorded decline in elephant numbers on the southern African mainland,” said a paper from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and London’s Natural History Museum.

The paper reports on tests of 26 elephants ranging in Kenya and Mozambique.

Releasing prey from captivity was used to test the possibility that the animals may be also re-defining their habitat to better adapt to the changing conditions.

“Archery is widespread in parks, and prey as large as wildebeest, warthogs and antelope are frequently trapped and killed with antlers retrieved from the trunks,” the authors write.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Rhino horns make up around a quarter of the value of the illegal wildlife trade

The report describes the condition of the horn from a tuskless elephant’s neck, as about the same as that from an antlerless animal’s neck.

Using the addition of finely-devised patinas, scientists were able to prove that the tuskless tusk is also about the same in quality.

“Two states evolved independently in the same animals, which means there must be many other elephants who also share this pattern,” the authors write.

They suggest that individuals which evolved to have both tusks and few antlers would be more fit, shorter, or have more well-rounded lower bodies.

“For example, if a rhino had lost the presence of the most well-muscled elephant tusk, it might lose roughly half of its hind legs and be shorter, but also have more intact upper and lower limbs,” the paper said.

After evaluating elephant tusks from 30 other species, the authors conclude there is strong evidence to suggest that all species have become a part of the same species.

“In other words, elephants could well represent a new, combined, dominant group of elephant relatives,” they write.

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