The Telegraph reports on the strange findings of Iain Douglas Hamilton and his colleagues, who appear to have discovered evidence that elephants are evolving smaller tusks due to ivory poaching:
In the last 150 years, the world’s elephant population has evolved much smaller tusks.
The average size of an African elephant’s tusks has gone down by half in the last century and a half. Indian elephants have undergone a similar tusk size reduction.
Experts believe the rapid evolution of the massive land mammals is due to poaching. Zoologists from Oxford University suggest that ivory poachers, who go for the largest males with the largest tusks, have caused the breeding behaviors of the animals to change rapidly in a short time.
On the evolutionary scale, this a lightning-fast development. One of my favorite fringe science theories is compressed evolution (or rapid evolution), in which organisms change rapidly (over a few generations, rather than over thousands of millions of years) due to extreme environmental pressure. Most studies have found suggestions of this taking place among fish, either due to overfishing (throwing the small ones back) or global warming. This kind of research makes some scientists uneasy because it’s a little too close to questioning Darwinism – but still, strange changes seem be happening in very little time.