Adaptation is very crucial for survival and that is what elephants around the world are doing right now to avoid poaching.
Elephants in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park are proof of the never-ending war between pachyderms and humans. A majority of the mammals bear no tusks. They are the lonely survivors from the 90% of the total population that were butchered for their ivory to fund weapons and meat to sustain fighters.
According to National Geographic Explorer and elephant behavior expert Joyce Poole, there are about 4,000 elephants that lived several decades ago. However, the elephant statistics declined after the civil war. Her unpublished research suggests that 51% of the 200 known adult females (25 years or older) that withstood the civil war have no tusks. Since the war, 32% of the born elephants are without tusks. The tusks of male elephants are larger and heftier compared with the females of the same age.
“But once there’s been heavy poaching pressure on a population, then the poachers start to focus on the older females as well. Over time, with the older age population, you start to get this really higher proportion of tuskless females,” Poole emphasized.
Tuskless elephants are not only found in Mozambique. In fact, countries with a background of considerable ivory poaching also indicate similar swings among female survivors along with their daughters. The tremendous effect is very evident in South Africa where 98% of the 174 females in Addo Elephant National Park apparently have no tusks in the early 2000s.
Poaching also has a dramatic effect on the sizes of elephant tusks particularly in areas where there is heavy hunting, particularly in southern Kenya. The Duke University and the Kenya Wildlife Service conducted a study in 2015 which compared captured elephant tusks between 2005 and 2013 and culled elephants’ tusks between 1966 and 1968. They discovered major differences and one is the size of the tusks during the period of intense poaching. The tusks of the survivors were around a fifth smaller in male pachyderms while it is over a third smaller in female ones.
Elephants reproduced the pattern to their offspring. More or less, males that were born after 1995 possess tusks which are 21% smaller compared to the males born from the 1960s and 27% smaller than the females from the same years.
The ecosystems that surround the pachyderms could have bigger consequences in terms of their evolution on where they live, how fast they move or where they wander. Despite the fact that the dietary and physiological features of tuskless elephants have not yet been officially compared to those with tusks in any herd, tuskless elephants seem to have discovered workarounds.
Another researcher, Josephine Smit from Southern Tanzania Elephant Program identified that around 35% of elephants aged 25 years or older in Ruaha National Park are tuskless. Those that are younger than 25 years have no tusks. The national park has been the ground of massive poaching from the 1970s to the 1980s.
Poachers go after pachyderms because of their priceless tusks as some believed to possess “invigorating” or curative powers. Powdered and consumed, many believe that it cures several diseases aside from increasing potency. Even if there is no scientific evidence to support the adoption of powdered ivory in Western medicine, stamina, and productivity.
Tusks are overgrown teeth and elephants use them in more ways than one. They use it for digging for water, crushing fruits, and debarking trees at the same time. However, tuskless elephants learned to adapt and use their trunks and teeth instead to strip tree barks.
Despite the ban imposed on ivory trade in late 2017, China has been one of the nations that badly seeks for it. Just this month, the Chinese government lifted the ban on ivory and animal trade but restored it a few days after, following an uproar from animal conservationist and other concerned people.