Elephants in Gorongosa, Mozambique born tuskless due to poaching

Posted by Anita Froneman on 22 October 2021

A new study published in Science revealed that some female elephants in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park were born without tusks, and sufficient evidence attributes this natural selection process to rampant poaching during the Mozambican Civil War which took place between 1977 and 1992.

Elephants with tusks were more likely to be killed during the civil war due to the value of ivory. Elephant tusks were sold to finance the conflict leading to approximately 90% of the elephant population being slaughtered by armed forces on both sides. Those without tusks survived, leading to an increased likelihood they would pass on the tuskless trait to their offspring.

‘Poaching resulted in strong selection that favoured tusklessness amid a rapid population decline. Today, half of Gorongosa’s females are tuskless. The females who survived the war are passing the trait to their daughters,’ the authors write.

Incredible pictures of newborn elephant calf

‘Warfare is associated with intensified exploitation and population declines of wildlife throughout Africa, and organised violence has long been intertwined with the ivory trade,’ the study adds.

Interestingly, the genetic trait responsible for suppressing the development of tusks is lethal to male elephants, and so there are no known male elephants born without tusks.

Elephants use their tusks to dig holes for water, forage for food and defend themselves during fights. That begs the question, would tuskless elephants be able to thrive without them?

‘If you don’t have this key tool, how do you have to adjust your behaviour in order to compensate?’ Dr Campbell-Staton told the New York Times. Aside from practical uses, others also brought up the viewpoint that elephant tusks are a unique and beautiful feature of these animals, and its disappearance for the sole reason of trying to avoid poachers, would be tragic.

Picture: Getaway gallery


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