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Elephant Genome Project: evolutionary theory re-written


The results of a decade-long Elephant Genome Project have caused previously accepted evolutionary tree models to be discarded.


It was previously thought there were two living species of elephants: the African, and the Asian. However, this research suggests that there are actually three: the Asian elephant, the forest-inhabiting African elephant, and the savanna-roaming African elephant.1

On an evolutionary timescale, the two distinct African lineages are supposed to have lived in complete genetic isolation for over 600,000 years. But given their close geographical proximity, how could such genetic isolation be maintained for such a long time without a thorough mixing of both gene pools? The two lineages are known to hybridize and produce fertile offspring in local populations today! The paper even gave hybridization as the reason for not previously recognizing the forest and savanna types as distinct.

These dates were calculated by assuming a mutation rate (based on evolutionary assumptions models) which the authors themselves acknowledged to be ‘highly uncertain’. A more likely explanation, especially in view of this hybridization, is that both African lineages diverged much more recently from an unknown ancestor. The paper acknowledges this as an alternative explanation. This would match a biblical model which has the elephant kind diverging into a number of species in the centuries following the Flood (for more on such speciation, see creation.com/speedy).

The study also revealed that the extinct Straight-tusked elephant that inhabited Eurasia, previously regarded as a sister group to the African elephant, was actually a hybrid of the ancient African elephant, the Woolly mammoth, and the African forest elephant. Evidence also suggests that interbreeding occurred between the Columbian mammoths and Woolly mammoths.

This finding is consistent with other studies on the biblical kind. The Bible tells us in Genesis 1 that God created all animals to reproduce after their own kind. This biblical teaching is often misrepresented as saying that the Bible rejects the idea of speciation, but the opposite is actually true. Biblical creation requires not just speciation, but rapid speciation—much faster than what is expected within the evolutionary model.

From one pair of every land-dwelling animal2 and in just a few thousand years after the Flood, rapid speciation gave rise to a vast diversity of animals, all reproducing within the limits of their own created kind. The word kind is generally understood to correspond between the genus and family level in Linnaean taxonomy. Consistent with biblical expectation, genetic and hybridization studies in the last decade have now confirmed that all 39 species of cats descended from an ancestral feline pair, the domesticated dog, wolf, dingo, coyote, and jackal, came from a canine kind, and the black, grizzly, polar, and brown bears share a common ancestry within the bear kind. Dolphins and whales can hybridize to form a wholphin; and zebras and donkeys may hybridize to give rise to Zonkeys. Even goats and sheep today come from an ancestral sheep-goat kind. In the same way, the latest finding from the Elephant Genome Project confirms the genetic closeness of all the elephant kind, including those now extinct.

Published: 31 May 2018

References and notes

  1. Palkopoulou, Eleftheria et al., A comprehensive genomic history of extinct and living elephants, PNAS, Feb 26, 2018. [Last Accessed: April 11, 2018], https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1720554115 Return to text.
  2. And seven of the clean animals. See Genesis 7:2-3. Return to text.