Elephants are Evolving and Dying Before Our Eyes… And It’s Because of Us.

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Elephants are Evolving and Dying Before Our Eyes… And It’s Because of Us.

William Souza-Ponce

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Imagine this: In 20 years, you and your spouse go to the zoo with your kids. You go see the lizards, the hippos, the lions, the tigers, the gazelles, you see everything. If you see elephants, they’re not likely to be what they are now. They’re more protective. They’re tuskless. The ones that do have tusks have tiny stunted ivories. They’ve evolved.  

This article is going to tell you about poachers harvesting African elephant tusks in Botswana after the president disarmed the Anti-Poaching units there. It will tell you how elephants are evolving to become tuskless, since that’s what poachers kill them for. You will see the Great Elephant Census, which lists elephant populations throughout Africa, read about how one hunter killed more than 100 elephants in Addo Elephant National Park, and you will learn that tusked African elephants might not be around for much longer. 

Un-Fun Fact: In the last 10 years, 1/3 of Africa’s savanna elephants have been killed. 


The 87 poached elephants and how the government responded                     

Un-Fun Fact: Every four years, a list is made of elephants killed in national parks. In 2014, the completed list was 9. This year, the list is only halfway done, and there’s already 87 on it.                                          

Botswana, a country in Africa, is known as the African elephants’ last safe haven. The only reason that that is true is because the guards and rangers are all armed to the teeth. They’ve adopted an unwritten shoot to kill policy that helped with keeping poachers away. That is, before Mokgweetsi Masisi became the president. He discovered that there isn’t actually any law saying that the national parks had to be armed. So, a month into presidency, he disarmed Chobe National Park. He took the weapons away from the entire Anti-Poaching unit, all the rangers and guards, and every last of the 800 soldiers protecting Chobe. Leaving the African elephants’ last safe haven virtually defenseless. 

Starting in July 2018, elephant carcasses started being discovered deep in Chobe. Eighty-seven elephants were found dead, with their faces cut off for ivory. It was clear that they were poached, as they were tuskless and the poachers mainly targeted older and larger adult bull elephants.  

The non-profit organization Elephants Without Borders reported this problem to the Botswanan government. The Ministry of environment, natural resources, conservation and tourism regarded the reports as “false” and “misleading”, saying: “At no point in the last months or recently were 87 or 90 elephants killed in one incident in any place in Botswana.” 

Elephants Without Borders reported the elephants again several times, with the Ministry ignoring them each time. Finally, the Ministry replied, saying that none of the elephants were poached. They all had died from “Natural causes,” or “Retaliatory killings as a result of human and wildlife conflicts.”   

When Elephants Without Borders pointed out that the elephants were tuskless and the poachers targeted certain ones, the Ministry decided to ignore them again. It is still ignoring them, as far as I know. 

You can find out more about what Elephants Without Borders is doing and support their work by visiting their website here: http://elephantswithoutborders.org/ 


The Great Elephant Census 

In 2015, scientists decided that they needed an elephant census. It’s called the Great Elephant Census, with many African countries included in it. It specifies if elephant populations are declining, increasing, or staying stable. Here are some of the countries on it: 

Un-Fun Fact:  The census shows the majority of countries’ elephant populations are declining.  

  • Chad: Quickly declining. Estimated: 743 savanna elephants. Declined 44% over a 4 year period  
  • Cameroon: Declining very quickly. Estimated: 148 savanna elephants  
  • elephants  
  • Tanzania: Declining very quickly. Estimated: 42,871 savanna elephants. Declined 60% over the last 5 years  
  • Botswana: Stable. Estimated: 130,451 savanna elephants.  
  • Zimbabwe: Stable. Estimated: 82,304 savanna elephants. Declined by 11% since 2005. Northwest Zimbabwe declined 74%  
  • Mozambique: Rapidly declining. Estimated: 605 savanna elephants. Declined 53% in 5 years. Declining faster than any country   

Note: This is not the full Great Elephants Census. For more of it, you can use these links: http://elephantswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/great-elephant-census/ 



Elephants evolving without tusks 

Not all elephants have tusks. A tusked Asian elephant is rare, and tuskless African elephants are not uncommon. But that’s not bad for just that generation of elephants. Tuskless elephants give birth to tuskless elephants. And they give birth to tuskless elephants. So if you take the tusks of all the elephants, or even just a large portion of them, then there is probably not going to be another tusked elephant again. This is very bad, not just because” Oh, that’s so mean! They took that elephant’s tusk!”. Well, it’s not just mean. Elephants need their tusks for daily things, like digging for water, food, and vital minerals. Or like digging up branches, debarking trees to secure fibers, fending off predators, and to attract mates.  

Naturally, 2-4% of all African elephants are tuskless. But, in Mozambique National Park, 51% of female elephants 25 years or older and 32% of female elephants 24 years or younger are tuskless. In Tanzania National Park, 35% of female elephants 25 years or older are tuskless. 

There was also a civil war in areas that African elephants live from 1977-1992. The war killed 90% of the elephants in Gorongosa National Park, and since then, 53% of adult females and 35% of newborn females have been tuskless. 

If poachers keep on hunting African elephants and taking their tusks, then there might not be any more tusked African elephants in the world.  


Addo Elephant National Park 

About 100 years ago, from 1919-1920, Addo Elephant National Park’s elephant population was really plummeting. Herds and herds of elephants were being killed, around 120 in total… all killed by one hunter: Major Philip Jacobus Pretorius (Just for the record, he was not a poacher. He was hired by local farmers to get rid of the elephants). He was known as the Great White Hunter. He singlehandedly brought the elephant population in Addo from about 130 to 11.  

Un-Fun Fact: He was never punished for killing all those elephants 

Of those 11 elephants, 8 were female, and 4 of the females were tuskless. Now, Addo Elephant National Park has more than 600 elephants… all descended from those 11. But, as half of the females were tuskless, and they all descended from them, in the early 2000s, 98% of the 174 females were tuskless.  

Again, Addo Elephant National Park now has more than 600 elephants, all descended from those 11 that Major P.J.P. left. The population doubles every 13 years, and has many other endangered species other than African elephants as well- like black rhinos, and cape buffalo herds. Fortunately, there has never been a poaching incident there of a protected species- mainly because the near impenetrable landscape surrounding it, Valley Thicket (Maj P.J.P called it in his autobiography, Jungle Man, a hunter’s hell). Valley Thicket helps keep out poachers a lot, and is a very good food source for giant vegetarians- like elephants (The plants in it grow thorns to try to save themselves from being eaten. That also helps with keeping poachers out).  

In conclusion, you learned about how one of the biggest elephant slaughters in history happened in Botswana, how African elephants are evolving to be tuskless, how Major P.J.P killed more than 100 elephants in Addo Elephant National Park, and about how elephants might not be around for much longer. To help save the African elephants, support organizations like Elephants Without Borders, and don’t ever help poaching-or the African elephant won’t stand a chance.  Donate at http://elephantswithoutborders.org/donate/ and help save the elephants. 



Un-Fun Fact: There are many different articles on the topic of elephants dying out, with lots of news, science, and facts about it.