News & Opinion | March 28, 2019 2:30 pm

African Elephants Are Evolving Without Tusks Because Of Poaching

Exotic wildlife parts fetch massive amounts of money on the black market

Elephants at Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, Africa are evolving without tusks because of poacher, according to researcher Ryan Long.

Poaching has been a major problem in Africa as exotic wildlife parts fetch massive amounts of money on the black market. Male elephants who would normally have tusks, a luxurious trophy for poachers, are beginning to evolve without them.

“There’s multiple things that could produce that sort of thing in elephant populations, but the leading hypothesis… is that there’s been a substantial amount of pressure placed on those populations by poachers,” Long told CBS News.

Long, who is an assistant professor of wildlife sciences at the University of Idaho, says that male elephants use their tusks for mating purposes and breeding rights as well as for combat.

Without their tusks, the elephants are at risk. “Tusks suddenly become a liability,” Long explained. “And so, as opposed to being something that benefits elephants, those elephants that have tusks… they’re the ones that get targeted first.”

If males don’t have tusks, chances of mating is reduced and the male elephants that do mate could wind up passing down their tuskless gene to their offspring.

Tusklessness occurs in female elephants too at a rate of about 4 to 6 percent of the population, but thanks to poaching, that number is also on the rise.