Elephants are losing their tusks, thanks to poachers who have relentlessly targeted the animals for ivory over decades, and in the process, fundamentally altered their gene pools.
The animals don't just use their tusks to scrape tree bark, uncover roots and dig for water in drought-ridden areas, but male elephants show off and battle with their tusks during mating.
However, now an increasing number of elephants are being born with smaller tusks or no tusks at all as a result of being subjected to centuries of hunting and aggressive poaching for ivory.
Now, 98 percent of female elephants born in Addo, South Africa, are completely tuskless as compared to the previous average rate, which is between 2 percent to 6 percent.
Joyce Pool, head of the organization for the conservation of the endangered mammals, Elephant Voices, has been recording the evolution of the species for over 30 years and believes there is a direct correlation between poaching and the number of females born without tusks in some elephant herds.
“Females who are tuskless are more likely to produce tuskless offspring,” she said.
Poole said because poachers disproportionately target tusked animals, almost half the females aged over 35 have no tusks and even though poaching is now under control and the elephant population is recovering from the trauma, they are still passing their tuskless genes down to their female offspring.
In Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, during the civil war between 1977 and 1992, 90 percent of elephants were killed. About 30 percent of females born after the end of the war did not have tusks either.
Poachers have illegally targeted almost one-third of African elephants in the last ten years in order to participate in the booming ivory trade in Asian countries, especially China.
Around 144,000 elephants were killed between 2007 and 2014 in Africa and since the past decade, nearly poachers decimated one-third of the African elephant population, so much so that some species of elephants are almost extinct.
Without their magnificent tusks, elephants are considered “crippled,” more susceptible to diseases and in danger of malnourishment. Unfortunately, if these alarming statistics are anything to go by, the entire species could very soon be tuskless.