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How Elephants are Evolving to Fight Poaching

An elephant’s tusks are among its defining features — they help the animal lift heavy branches, topple trees, strip bark, fight, and dig holes for water and minerals. But an increasing proportion of female elephants in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park have been born without these crucial tools, and scientists say it’s an evolutionary response to the brutal killing of elephants for their ivory tusks during the country’s 15-year civil war. Elephant experts working in the park had begun to notice the phenomenon after the war ended in 1992. Field data and analysis of old video footage from the park found that the proportion of tuskless female elephants increased more than threefold between 1972 and the year 2000. It was a period during which the elephant population plummeted from roughly 2,000 to about 250 individuals, said Ryan Long, an associate professor of wildlife sciences at the University of Idaho.