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Creation 37(1):21, January 2015

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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).

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

Helpful Resources

The Greatest Hoax on Earth?
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $16.00
Soft Cover
Refuting Evolution
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $12.00
Soft Cover
Stones and Bones
by Carl Wieland
US $3.50
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Kathleen B.
Thank you for putting this on line I never know any of these things very good thank you Kathleen Bush
Simon W.
Thanks for the article. Having read similar articles by Dr. Catchpool before, would I be correct in assuming that the African elephants, having had their gene pool narrowed to produce largely smaller/non-existent tusks, would have lost the genetic capability of larger tusks? If my thoughts are correct here, this would result in a reduction of workable information if these elephants never could have long tusks restored to that population.
Don Batten
Rev Robert W.
We all know how language can control and shape thought. It may be better, therefore, to refer to 'natural selection' as 'natural de-selection' as it is purely negative and eliminates much of what comes before it: in this case the long-tusked elephant. It does not create anything new, despite appearances sometimes to the contrary. For example, in a population of tusked elephants, where one family of untusked elephants comes forth and survives: natural selection or natural deselection may appear to have wrought that, but in fact, it has only allowed it to survive - after the fact; and in time, natural de-selective pressures may well eliminate, the fully formed elephant population; as trophy-hunters choose the best, and allow the worst to survive and dominate. Natural de-selection indeed!
Gina T.
Because of the work done by CMI, the minute I saw the heading "Why the Elephant is Losing its Tusks" I immediately knew what the answer was. With the large tusked animals being eliminated from the population (by poaching) only the smaller tusked animals are able to carry their genes to the next generation. It's so blindingly simple. It amazes me that Richard Dawkins can use the loss of tusks to 'prove' the theory of evolution.
Don Batten
Thanks Gina.
Yes, that Richard Dawkins uses this sort of thing shows that evolutionists are hard-pressed to find any real evidence for a mechanism for microbes-to-man transformation.
Jon M.
Appreciate the article. Will share it with friends at work. I found the comments from Peter G. and Matthew L. particularly insightful. This is no different than what people have done to the dog over the past 2 centuries through natural selection. I hope this next comment isn't offensive, but to help people understand how evolutionists can remain so blind, I offer the analogy of the human egg and the human mind. Just as a female's egg accepts the first sperm that comes along and then closes itself to future sperm, the human mind too often accepts the first idea presented to it (in this case, evolution), and then proceeds to resist the entry of future ideas (no matter how good). This is why evolutionists have forced their curriculum into public schools beginning in kindergarten. Tell the 5 year-old kids about "ancient dinosaurs and millions of years of evolution" and by the time creationists get around to talking about Genesis with their children, they'll be resistant to it.
Michael K.
I have been looking for a way to show people their own bias. They full well reject any information that would bring them to an awareness of their creator, because it makes them uncomfortable in their sin. Problem is, I have the same bias. I am a sinner.
Thank you and God bless you all for your work.
Ken P.
The universe has been winding down, becoming less organised not more complex, since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden. Excellent article. For those who do not want to submit to Jesus Christ the Almighty Creator, He has some serious warnings. "The fool says in his heart there is no God." Psalm 14:1 "Proclaiming to be wise they became fools." Romans 1:22 And yet "...at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." Philippians 2:10,11 Thank God that we can bow down in worship before him now as his Magnificent and Almighty power is shown to us through the Creation all around us. The day is coming when all will bow either in worship or out of fear of eternal punishment.
S. D.
Fantastic, I have found that laymen always think that this is evolution. And it is even difficult to convince the university student that this is a loss of information and due to deterioration of the gene rather than molecules to man evolution in action!!! Great article, I shall now keep this as a specific example that one again disproves MACRO - Evolution. I mean scientific literature would consider this micro-evolution but even that is misleading as what is going on is devolution!!!!
Matthew L.
Thank you David for a great article. This smells strangely like the poor wingless beetles who lost their ability to fly, but wound up being selected for with by the windy conditions of the island. Another loss of genetic information being trumpeted as an animal evolving and advancing.
Those poor elephants losing ability to grow larger tusks and compete for mating rights.... until the hunters make that loss artificially advantageous. This is no different than how we in the United States manage our deer population. Because of the artificial pressure imposed on the population by "Boone and Crockett" scores for big racks, hunters and wildlife managers have consciously altered their harvesting practices to allow these healthy "big- racked" bucks to grow and pass on those genes in the populations they manage. When they are mature and the game manager believes they have passed those genes on, they are then harvested. Intelligent game mangers actually continually produce these trophy size deer with their selections, trying to keep this information in the population.
I really appreciate these reports revealing the desperation by evolutionists trying to promote their religion. This example shows the absurdity they have sunk to. This is like that old merchant's joke: We will lose a little on every sale but make it up on volume. Watch as countries in Africa and Asia change their hunting practices, become more successful in protecting elephants from poachers, or improve game management strategies and the tusk length in the populations magically improves! I have no doubt that we will read someone claiming this as evolution before our eyes as well. Thanks again David!
Kevin W.
That was pretty pathetic. Just because you refuse to CALL it evolution doesn't mean it ISN'T evolution.

It DOES, however, make the claimant a liar.

Science doesn't care what you believe.
David Catchpoole
Kevin, you wrote: "Science doesn't care what you believe."

In stark contrast, what you believe DOES matter to your Creator, e.g.:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." (John 3:16-18)
Stephen C.
I read an article about similar things happening in fish populations. Because fishermen tend to keep larger fish and throw back the small ones (or, in large-scale fishing, smaller fish are more easily able to slip out of the nets), many types of fish are getting smaller and smaller, as a whole. This is as clear evidence as any that selection (natural or artificial) works by making the gene pool SMALLER, not LARGER, as would be required for molecules-to-man evolution.
David Catchpoole
Thanks for your comment; it bears out our previous articles Smaller fish to fry and Where have all the big fish gone?
david W.
Similar pressures have reduced the average size of the population of Atlantic salmon returning to rivers around the British coast.

The mesh size of nets used in salmon fishing have caught the large fish and only allowed smaller ones to get through. Progressively the genes for large fish have been removed from the wild population.
Peter G.
Having been born and raised in rural Zimbabwe and worked as a safari guide for the last 32 years, I can certainly confirm that David's article is true. In actual fact, the average weight of ivory taken by hunters in the safari industry has decreased considerably in just 30 years. Ivory weight and length in elephant is determined by genetics and because the larger bull elephants have over the years been targeted by both legal and illegal hunters, it hasn't taken long for this gene pool to be severely depleted. In actual fact there are still some young bull elephants (15-20 yrs), who if allowed to grow undisturbed, will attain the same weight as their predecessors. The increase of tuskless animals is a direct result of management policies. In earlier days the game department would cull all tuskless animals but due to CITES restrictions, the culling of these animals is no longer carried out. The result is that elephant populations in some National Parks have actually increased significantly over the last 30 years and with this, so have the tuskless animals. It is also worth pointing out that an elephant without tusks is at a disadvantage due to its inability to use this tool to feed and defend itself, so how can this be classed as a form of evolution? ..... Isn't evolution supposed to be a process of improvement??
Michael I.
I couldn't help but laugh when I read this article this morning. This was brought up in an online discussion I had with someone as proof of evolution. I presented the loss of information is in opposition of evolutionary theory calling it "de-evolution" and the guy said to me "that's not a word, you just made that up." I cant help but feel sorry for him. They use the term so loosely, for them, any variation or adaption is evolution. It's like the word evolution has become the word change on any scale. God bless CMI, keep it up!
Peter M.
Why can't the opponents of creation see this demonstration and the countless others you present for us on your website, as being the complete opposite of evolution.

The term 'blindingly obvious' comes to mind. Their eyes must be firmly shut not to see this.

Let us pray that many more people will understand that evolution is a false teaching because of the work of this website. Thank you.

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