Researchers have discovered that ivory poaching has resulted in the evolution of tuskless Elephants over the past decades. This proves that humans are actually changing the anatomy wild animals.
According to Science, a previously rare genetic mutation that causes tusklessness in African elephants has been made very common after many were killed for their trunks.
Researchers examined the reasons female elephants in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique had a tendency to be born without tusks and discovered that they were genetically engineered through mass ivory poaching.
Tusk-bearing elephants were more likely to be killed during the Mozambican civil War from 1977 to 1992. This was when 90% of the population of elephants was killed by both sides in order to make ivory to finance the conflict. The tuskless were allowed to breed, which increased the likelihood that they would pass this trait on to their offspring.
The effects of these actions are still evident on the 700 elephants who live in the national parks, a few generations later. Robert Pringle, from Princeton University's department of ecology, evolutionary biology, was the one who led the study. He said that it demonstrated the effects of human interference on nature.
He stated that he believed the study showed more than numbers. People had a profound impact on the anatomy of animals.
Pringle stated that Gorongosa national Park had always been of interest to researchers. They suspected that historical poaching was the cause of this anomaly, but the details were not known.
He stated that one of the most striking features of female elephants is the lack of tusks. This was something we were interested in. Although there was a lot of literature about elephants being tusked, particularly in areas where there has been poaching, we realized that nobody really knew why. It was also difficult to quantify or document the phenomenon, and be able to attribute it to a cause.
The researchers suspected that the phenomenon was genetic and that it was rare in males. This suggested that it could be linked to sex. Researchers discovered a genetic difference in the genomes of both tusked elephants and tuskless ones after sequencing their genomes.
Analyses revealed that there were two candidate genes on theX chromosome. One of these genes is known to play a role in mammalian tooth formation. These genes are associated in humans with an X-linked dominating syndrome, which stalls the growth lateral incisors.
Although the suspected mutation in one or more genes protects female elephants against poaching, it can also cause death to male elephants who do not grow properly in their wombs.
This genetic abnormality affects about half of the male elephant calves born to a tuskless mom. It means that elephant herds in areas of high poaching could be severely depleted. Pringle stated that this problem can be reversed over time as elephant populations have increased for the past two decades, and more than tripled in the last 20 years, since 1990s, when they were threatened with extinction.
According to him, we expect this syndrome to decrease in frequency among our study population if the conservation picture remains as positive as it was recently. There is so much negative news about biodiversity and human impact on the environment, and it's important to highlight that there are also some positive aspects.