Baby elephants are protecting their tiny tusks from poachers — by camouflaging them

For more than a century, elephant populations have been rapidly declining in Africa, with poachers picking apart the tusks of mature, protected herds. An increase in the illegal ivory trade in recent years has…

Baby elephants are protecting their tiny tusks from poachers — by camouflaging them

For more than a century, elephant populations have been rapidly declining in Africa, with poachers picking apart the tusks of mature, protected herds.

An increase in the illegal ivory trade in recent years has contributed to a drastic decline in elephant populations in the region, with as many as 100,000 elephants being killed each year — and that number expected to increase as demand for ivory spikes following the recent economic collapse in China. Several of the countries involved in the wildlife trade have criminalized ivory — a move that is intended to safeguard elephants from poaching and protect the animals from being treated as collector’s items.

In Kenya, for example, where nearly 70 percent of the country’s elephant population live, new satellite tags designed to deter poachers and help the government monitor their movements are proving effective at protecting their herds. Although most of the population in Kenya is protected, according to the Wildlife Direct website, poachers still injure, kill and relocate some male and female animals. But young elephants and their offspring seem to have adopted protection from poachers as their adopted survival strategy.

In the decade between 2010 and 2017, more than 80 percent of newly born calves in Kenya were unharmed by poachers. In a study presented at the London Zoological Society’s zoo in April 2018, researchers attributed the ability of young elephants to remain unharmed by poachers in part to the coloration of their teeth. Mothers with black and brown trunks are more susceptible to attack, the researchers believe, due to darker hair on their legs and hind limbs. Meanwhile, on the females’ darker boney legs, the predators feed more easily. In the past three years, Kenya’s elephants seem to have adopted a fully obscured tusk form for their unborn calves — but the growth of black tusks indicates that the herd will be even safer from poachers in the future.

Read the full story at The Guardian.

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