The majestic African elephant is facing serious problems due to illegal poaching. As always, life will find a way, however this particular way should be a serious wake-up call.
According to Darwin’s theory of evolution, all species roaming the Earth today are the result of millennia of genetic mutation and natural selection. It’s survival of the fittest — if you’re strong and suited to your environs, you’ll live long enough to pass on your genetic material.
But, in an extraordinarily depressing twist on this natural system, these same principles are now behind a dramatic upsurge in the number of African elephants being born without tusks.
While elephant tusks are intended to be used to dig for food and water, defend themselves against predators, and help to attract a mate, their ivory has also made the poor animals the targets of poachers.
These illegal hunters, favouring specimens with the biggest, most impressive tusks, have drastically depleted the number of large-tusked elephants passing on their genetic material.
Like all babies, elephants inherit their physical characteristics from their parents — so if one or both of their folks were born without large tusks, there is a high likelihood that their offspring will be too.
Survival of the fittest, in this case, now means having tusks small enough to avoid the poachers’ crosshairs – or simply not having tusks at all.
Dr Joyce Poole, head of conservation charity Elephant Voices, spoke to The Times for a recent article, where they estimated that roughly 144,000 African pachyderms were slaughtered between 2007 and 2014.
Other recent reports, however, had drawn a much darker conclusion, estimating that more than 30,000 African elephants are killed by poachers every year — bringing the species dangerously close to extinction in certain areas.
According to Dr Poole, in the aftermath of Mozambique’s civil war, almost half of all female elephants over the age of 35 currently living in Gorongosa National Park were born tuskless.
The park lost over 90 per cent of their elephant population during the war, which lasted from 1977 to 1992, and while the ecosystem has been in recovery, research shows that an alarming 30 per cent of female elephants born since the end of the war have been born without tusks.
If you want to help, head over to Elephant Voices and get involved!