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Creation 37(1):21, January 2014

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Why the elephant is losing its tusks (and it’s not evolution!)



Elephants’ tusks are getting shorter—with an increasing proportion of the elephant population even being completely tuskless—and it’s widely being heralded as ‘evolution’ and ‘Darwinism in action’.1

Outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins refers to the phenomenon in his book, The Greatest Show on Earth—the evidence for evolution, in the chapter titled “Before our very eyes”.2 The speed of the change has surprised many. Dawkins points out in that chapter that “Darwin himself picked out [elephants] as one of the slowest-reproducing animals, with one of the longest generation turnovers” and he opines that, in reference to the speedy reduction in tusk size, “We would not expect to see it within one human lifetime.”

The change has indeed been rapid, and dramatic, with the average tusk size of African elephants halving since the mid-19th century. A similar effect has been noted in the Asian elephant population in India. An article in The Telegraph said:

“[B]ut whereas evolution normally takes place over thousands of years, these changes have occurred within 150 years.”1

Ivory trade statistics and the records of hunters tell us just how much tusk size has reduced.3 And there is general agreement that it’s because of the selection pressure from hunters seeking to supply the ivory trade that tusk size has diminished, and tusklessness increased. Hunters of course target elephants with big tusks, but these days large trophies are hard to find.

Hunting seems to have had similar impacts upon moose, too, which now have smaller antlers than was the case just a few decades ago, and wild bighorn sheep.4,5,6

But is this really evolution? The answer is a resounding ‘No!’ The selection pressure from hunters is essentially an artificially-imposed version of ‘natural selection’.7 Neither such ‘artificial’ nor ‘natural’ selection is in any way ‘evolution’ as it can only favour certain genes over others, it cannot generate any new genetic information.8 Selection can only cull out genetic information that already exists. No wonder its effects can be seen so quickly, even in just one generation.9

Note that, in some elephants at least, tusklessness has been attributed to “a chance genetic mutation”.10 Evolutionists look to mutations to provide the new ‘raw material’ for natural selection to act upon—a mechanism they claim has turned pond scum into pachyderms over millions of years. But that requires an increase in genetic information, to create new features, whereas the mutation causing a loss of information for elephant tusks is certainly no example of that! However, tuskless elephants have the advantage of being ignored by hunters, and so survive to pass their mutated genes to the next generation.11

Natural selection plus mutations is not evolution. Feature-destroying mutations are, however, right in line with a world “in bondage to decay”, as the Bible describes (Romans 8:19–22).

First posted on homepage: 11 April 2016
Re-posted on homepage: 28 October 2020

References and Notes

  1. Gray, R., Why elephants are not so long in the tusk—Elephants are evolving smaller tusks due to pressure from hunting and poaching for ivory, according to conservation experts, telegraph.co.uk, 20 January 2008. Return to text
  2. Dawkins, R., The Greatest Show on Earth—the evidence for evolution, Free Press, New York, USA, 2009. For a rebuttal of Dawkins’ book, see The Greatest Hoax on Earth by Jonathan Sarfati, creation.com/store. Return to text
  3. Brooks, A. and Buss, I., Trend in tusk size of the Uganda elephant, Mammalia 26:10–34, 1962. Return to text
  4. Coltman, D., and 5 others, Undesirable evolutionary consequences of trophy hunting, Nature 426(6967):655–658, 2003. Return to text
  5. Whitfield, J., Sheep horns downsized by hunters’ taste for trophies, Nature 426(6967):595, 2003. Return to text
  6. Catchpoole, D., Bighorn horns not so big, Creation 32(4):12–13, 2010; creation.com/bighorn. Return to text
  7. Grabianowski, E., How natural selection works: Case studies in natural selection, science.howstuffworks.com, acc. 1 August 2014. Return to text
  8. See also: Wieland, C., Muddy waters—clarifying the confusion about natural selection, Creation 23(3):26–29, 2001; creation.com/muddy. Return to text
  9. For more on this see creation.com/speedy. Return to text
  10. Elephants ‘ditch tusks’ to survive, news.bbc.co.uk, 25 September 1998. Return to text
  11. Steenkamp, G., Ferreira, S., and Bester, M., Tusklessness and tusk fractures in free-ranging African savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana), Journal of the South African Veterinary Association 78(2):75–80, 2007. Return to text

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