Elephants evolving to be born without tusks thanks to ruthless poachers


Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/11/12/elephants-evolving-to-be-born.html





There’s a phenotypic shift over a short timescale. That’s not evidence for evolution. It’s evidence of a selection pressure and of poaching. We would need more data to know if there is evolution happening. It’s not unconcerning, but “evolution” is premature.



The reproductive cycle of elephants is far too long to call this evolution. It takes many generations and there have barely been a handful of those since that particular war. Not nearly enough to cause such a huge difference. This is humans being stupid and evil. Like always.


Couldn’t it also just be that longer-tusked animals are more attractive to the poachers, so those with naturally shorter tusks are the ones left alive to reproduce?


But the free, and totally legal hunting of elephants for their tusks took place for centuries. At escalating levels, until we banned it labeled such hunting poaching. So there’s a longer time line here than just “elephant poaching” and which events they’ve chosen to tie it to.

That’s the evolutionary mechanism they’re claiming is taking place.

This isn’t the first time this particular trend has been claimed.


The same is true of whitetail deer here in heavily hunted SW Ontario. Biggame hunters like myself select for those male animals with larger antlers and over very short timescales you end up with herds - populations - that are largely female, and have younger males with shorter, and shorter antlers.

I would counter these cynics decrying “this isn’t evolution yet!” with the idea that natural selection (hunting and poaching is most certainly natural selection) of individuals contributes heavily to the process of evolution and evolution has been seen to occur on extraordinarily small timescales.


Others might say it is most certainly unnatural selection.


Or is it “people killed all the elephants with big tusks?” :cry:


Exactly. If you kill all the black dogs, there will be only brown dogs left - but the dogs have not “evolved.” Not even in the Pokemon sense of the word.


Evolution is the change in frequency of alleles in a population. All selection is evolution.


It is estimated that there might be less than 30 “Tusker” male elephants left in the world. Hunting and the ivory trade have left only a handful of what might once have been thousands that had tusks large enough to be called Tuskers - each tusk heavier than 110 lbs, sometimes long enough to reach the ground. The elephants we know today are not the same as the elephants of two hundred years ago. The evolutionary pressure in this case was clearly man.

Bonus article from a safari company that talks about the last Tuskers and a story about one of the wise old males that knows that not all people are terrible.


It might surprise you but human beings are a part of and exist in nature. Would it be less “unnatural” if bears were doing it?


Well, if the bears start using guns and stuff, yeah.
(And no, I was not surprised at your stunning revelatory insight.)


Perhaps it’s time to add “human selection” to the existing “natural” kind. Feels about right, we’re doing this much, much faster than nature usually can.


similarly, i’ve been suffering from a pilonidal cyst - i suspect that i’ve evolved to fuck my own ass so the government doesn’t have to.


The argument has overtones of Lamarckism (inheritance of acquired characteristics), which is heresy in Darwin’s universe. The loss of breeding opportunities with tusk-y individuals makes more sense than anything to do with evolution.


Tuskless? There’s always the umbrella stand market.


So, there is some hope for the GOP,


Yeah you might be right. Hunting has been around as long as humans have been working together but poaching came after the institution of the rule of law.