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Monday, July 18, 2005

Study Shows More Tuskless Elephants

BEIJING, July 17 (AFP) - A recent study has predicted that more male Asian elephants in China will be born without tusks because poaching of tusked elephants is reducing the gene pool, the China Daily reported Sunday.

The study, conducted in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in southwest China's Yunnan province, where two-thirds of China's Asian elephants live, found that the tuskless phenomenon is spreading, the report said.

The tusk-free gene, which is found in between two and five percent of male Asian elephants, has increased to between five percent and 10 percent in elephants in China, according to Zhang Li, an associate professor of zoology at Beijing Normal University.

"This decrease in the number of elephants born with tusks shows the poaching pressure for ivory on the animal," said Zhang, whose research team has been studying elephants since 1999 at a reserve in Xishuangbanna.

Only male elephants have tusks, which are said to be a symbol of masculinity and a weapon to fight for territory. However, due to poaching for ivory, the elephants' pride has become a death sentence, the report said.

"The larger tusks the male elephant has, the more likely it will be shot by poachers," said Zhang. "Therefore, the ones without tusks survive, preserving the tuskless gene in the species."
A similar decline in elephants with tusks has been seen in Uganda, which experienced heavy poaching in the 1970s and '80s, the report said.

There are between 45,000 and 50,000 Asian elephants in 13 countries, including China and India. China only has about 250, according to the report.

China is among 160 nations which signed an international treaty administered since 1989 banning the trade in ivory and products of other endangered animals.

Nonetheless, four Asian elephants were found shot dead in China last year. In addition to poaching, human activity that causes a loss of habitat also threatens the animals.


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