If I had to pick a favorite non-domestic animal, it would almost definitely be the elephant. They are truly magnificent to look at - those gentle giants with their huge, plodding feet, massive flappy ears, and their magnificent tusks.
Sadly, it's those tusks, or more specifically their value to humans, that have endangered their lives over the last few centuries.
Throughout modern history, elephants have been targeted by hunters for the highly-valuable ivory that makes up their tusks. Ivory was commonly used to make the white keys on pianos throughout most of the 20th century, and even today is thought by some cultures to have various medicinal properties.
The ivory trade has long since been made illegal for the most part, but sadly, this has driven up the black market price even more, by making ivory more difficult to obtain. This is why many countries that have a wild elephant population hire armed rangers to guard their herds from poachers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
As someone who loves animals, I find it so horrible to think of these beautiful creatures being killed for their tusks, and a recent scientific discovery highlights just how serious the problem is. According to National Geographic, the majority of elderly elephants that survived civil war and hunting were tuskless. It won't surprise you to know that this is thought to be a direct result of tusked elephants being hunted for the illicit ivory trade.
Researchers have found that one-third of the elephants in Mozambique are tuskless, whereas there used to be only around 4% of tuskless elephants in the territory. It's not that the elephants are evolving to not have tusks - it's thought that, because the tuskless elephants are more likely to survive, they are breeding more often, and passing on their genetics.
After the news about tuskless elephants spread, many called it mother nature’s way of fighting back - the logic being that, if more elephants are without tusks, fewer of them will be poached. However, it's still so sad to see our species affecting other life in this way.
With numbers of tuskless elephants rising, this type of change may prove to be a natural blow to the cruel and illegal ivory business. However, there's no telling how this could effect the ecosystem as a whole.
Tusks are essentially overgrown teeth, and are used by elephants daily to fight off rivals, and to acquire food. According to National Geographic, there are a certain type of lizards that often live in the trees that were roughed up by elephants. This is just one example of how, if the number of tuskless elephants continues to grow, it might also affect other animal populations in the region.
Whether this trend will continue, and how it will affect the ecosystem if it does, remains to be seen. One thing's for sure, though - as an international community, we need to do everything we can to stop these beautiful creatures from being killed by thoughtless poachers.