Human activity causes elephants to be born tuskless

After the Mozambican Civil War, elephants evolved tuskless as a survival response to poaching.

Katie Riches
22nd November 2021
Credits: Canva
Elephants have been roaming our planet for 55 million years, living relatively in peace. Now their numbers are dwindling due to a lethal mutation caused by humans.

Back to the Mozambican Civil War, elephants were slaughtered for the ivory contained in their tusks and the brutal killing caused a large number of elephants to be born tuskless. The war ended nearly 30 years ago and now, more than ever, we are seeing the impact of human activity on our wildlife.

Does this not spare them from being killed? Yes, it does. Campbell-Staton, biologist at Princeton University, agrees that the fact that elephants are born tuskless cannot be considered a success.

Natural selection allows for those born tuskless to pass on their tuskless genes to the youngest. This is advantageous in the case of females as those tuskless are five times more likely to survive when compared to those with tusks.

However, Shane Campbell-Staton said : “we had an inkling that whatever genetic mutation took away these elephants’ tusks was also killing males”. After sequencing the genomes of tuskless females and females with tusks, the team found that the AMELX gene was involved.

This gene resides in the X chromosome, of which females have two and males only have one. AMELX is adjacent to other crucial genes and when absent it leads to death in males. Females have two X chromosomes that with their functional copy ensure their survival. Males, however, have only a X chromosome, that in case of mutation won't grant them survival.

Whilst nature has tried its best to protect elephants from poaching, unfortunately being tuskless will be fatal for the male elephant population.

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