Tuskless and tusked elephants live in the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. (ElephantVoices via AP)

Tuskless and tusked elephants live in the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. (ElephantVoices via AP)

Being tuskless helped elephants survive during the war. (ElephantVoices via AP)

Being tuskless helped elephants survive during the war. (ElephantVoices via AP)

Members of a research team check on a tuskless female elephant in Gorongosa National Park. (Robert M. Pringle via AP)

Members of a research team check on a tuskless female elephant in Gorongosa National Park. (Robert M. Pringle via AP)

People get their eye color from genes from their parents. Likewise, genes determine whether elephants have tusks.

People get their eye color from genes from their parents. Likewise, genes determine whether elephants have tusks.

A pregnant elephant enjoys her food in Sri Lanka. Imagine being pregnant for two years, as elephants are! (Jeyathees /CC BY-SA 4.0)

A pregnant elephant enjoys her food in Sri Lanka. Imagine being pregnant for two years, as elephants are! (Jeyathees /CC BY-SA 4.0)

Ta-Ta to Tusks?

Posted: January 1, 2022

Young elephants in Mozambique should sprout tusks around two years of age. But in the current crop of calves, many have turned out tuskless. Why could that be?

Tusks help elephants dig for water, strip bark for food, and joust with other elephants. If you’re an elephant, you want a good set of tusks. Right?

Maybe. Tusks have a downside too. People want them for ivory. Greed drives poachers to kill elephants to get those ivory tusks.

Mozambique had years of civil war. Fighters on both sides slaughtered elephants for ivory to pay for the war. In one part of the country, around nine out of every 10 elephants were killed.

Not all elephants have tusks. Genes are responsible for whether elephants inherit tusks from their parents. (Genes hold the code that determines a creature’s design. Genes decide how each living thing will look and function.) Tusklessness was once rare in African savanna elephants. Now it has become more common. You can think of it this way: Brown is the most common human eye color. Green is the least common. Imagine you started seeing green-eyed people just as often as brown-eyed people. That’s similar to what has happened to the elephants.

Before the war, about one out of every five elephants never developed tusks. These elephants tended to survive the war. That makes sense. Poachers didn’t want elephants that couldn’t provide ivory. Now those tuskless elephants are passing on their genes . . . and making tuskless babies.

African Elephant Facts:

BIGGEST. African elephants are the biggest land mammal in the world. A male can grow up to 13 feet tall and weigh 14,000 pounds. (Females are a little smaller.)

LONGEST. Baby elephants take longer to grow inside their mothers than other animals—almost two years. They also suck their trunks like human babies suck their thumbs.

HUNGRIEST. A grown elephant can eat up to 300 pounds of plant food (grass, fruit, roots, and bark) in one day.

Why? African elephants aren’t evolving into a new species. But they are adapting to hard times—and this ability shows the care and providence of the Creator.