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Raw video of a tuskless elephant on safari.

To survive poachers, many African elephants born tuskless

Daksha Rangan
Digital News Reporter

Wednesday, December 14, 2016, 2:27 PM - It's somewhat of a paradox, you could say. African elephants often use their ivory tusks in self-defense; however, an increasing number of baby elephants are reportedly being born without them -- a biological evolution that researchers have linked to ivory poaching.

Several reports dating back to the '90s have zeroed in on the phenomenon of tuskless baby elephants. In 1998, research from the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda found that 15 per cent of the park's female elephants, and 9 per cent of its male elephants were born without tusks, the BBC reports. It's a growing number compared to the figure from 1930, when just 1 per cent of both male and female elephants were born without tusks.

According to a researcher quoted by The Independent and The Times, in one east African national park, 98 per cent of female elephants do not have tusks.

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Joyce Poole, head of the non-profit organization, Elephant Voices, has spent more than 30 years researching and monitoring developments in the species, the Independent reports. Poole told The Times that based on the herds she's monitored, there's evidently a direct link between the increase in poaching and the number of female elephants born without tusks.

At Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park, 90 per cent of elephants killed between 1977 and 1992 as the country's civil war took place, the Independent reports.

Poachers unequally targeted animals with tusks, leaving nearly half the female elephants over the age of 35 tuskless. It's the "tuskless gene" that these female elephants are passing down to their daughters, Poole told The Times. Of all the post-war elephants born, 30 per cent of females do not have tusks.

"Females who are tuskless are more likely to produce tuskless offspring,” Poole said.

98 per cent of the female elephants at South Africa's Addo Elephant National Park are reportedly tuskless -- probably the most impactful example of the "tuskless gene." In 1931, when the park was first established, only 11 elephants were spared from big game hunters. Out of eight surviving females, four were tuskless, the Independent reports.

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Though there's been a ban on the international ivory trade since the late 1980s, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says tens of thousands of African elephants continue to be killed each year for their tusks. Often, the ivory is later carved into jewelry or ornaments and sold internationally, with China listed as the biggest consumer market for such products.

Ivory tusk tower. Photo Credit: Ivy Allen / USFWS

Ivory tusk tower. Photo Credit: Ivy Allen / USFWS

The 1989 ban did allow some populations to recover, the WWF notes, but recent years have seen an upsurge in poaching and illegal ivory trafficking, led by a growing demand in Asia. This has led to a large decline in forest elephant populations, along with some Savannah elephant populations.

SOURCE: The Independent | WWF | National Geographic

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