Evolving Elephants

When it comes to the thought of evolution, someone’s mind might immediately jump back hundreds of thousands of years, to the transformation of creatures that no longer walk this earth into something more recognizable. Or even to the very beginning – from bacteria to organisms, fish to land animals, or even primate to human. All of this can seem a little overwhelming – the changes are so dramatic that they can sometimes be hard to believe. But the truth of the matter is that evolution is still playing it’s role today, right before your very eyes.

The reason that this is hard to catch on to is simple – the scale of the changes are so small, that it takes years upon years until we even notice them. But they are happening, and even if they seem miniscule to us, they can make a huge difference to the species it’s effecting. Take elephants, for example.

elephant_epkp4_med

Slowly but surely, elephants are in the process of leaving their tusks behind. With poaching being a prominent cause of death, their ivory tusks have gotten them into a lot of bad situations. Over the course of the past few decades, the percentage of tuskless elephants has been increasingly dramatic – rising from 3% to as high as 38% now. How is this happening? Likely, it’s natural selection. Either female elephants have started to prefer more tuskless males as mates, or the more reasonable explanation – the trunkless elephants are far more likely to survive long enough to be able to breed. The mutation that led a few male elephants to be born without tusks has snowballed, and it may not only change the way we think of elephants today, but it could save their species as well.

-Catrina Miccicke

Further Reading:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/180301.stm

http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2005/07/18/1416333.htm

Photo credit: Scotch Macaskill

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