Home Biologist salary Study: Ivory trade accelerated the ‘evolution’ of helpless elephants

Study: Ivory trade accelerated the ‘evolution’ of helpless elephants


Ivory poaching in Mozambique has resulted in a “rapid evolution” of helpless African elephants, according to a study published Thursday in Science magazine.

Driving the news: Years of poaching in Mozambique have led to a greater proportion of elephants that will never develop tusks, which are used by animals to dig for water and bark for food, according to the Associated Press.

  • During the Mozambican Civil War of 1977-1992, fighters slaughtered elephants for ivory in order to support war efforts, resulting in the reduction of elephants with tusks, per AP.
  • After the war, half of the females were naturally defenseless, while before the war less than a fifth had no tusks. The elephant population as a whole has declined by more than 90% due to the war, the researchers say.

Between the lines: The significant reduction in the elephant population after the war “resulted in a phenotype of the species which had a better chance of survival – in particular, female elephants,” ABC News reports.

  • Helpless female elephants have passed on their genes, so about half of elephants are helpless and about two-thirds of offspring are females, per AP.

What they say : The years of unrest “changed the evolutionary trajectory of this population,” evolutionary biologist Shane Campbell-Staton said, according to AP.

  • “When we think of natural selection, we think it takes place over hundreds, if not thousands of years,” said Samuel Wasser, conservation biologist at the University of Washington, according to AP.
  • “The fact that this dramatic selection for defenselessness occurred over 15 years is one of the most astonishing findings.”


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