Poaching is altering the genetics of wild animals

“just as tusks evolved because they provide a number of benefits, a striking new study shows that some populations of African elephants have rapidly evolved to become tusk–less. Published in the journal Science, the paper’s authors found that many elephants in a park in Mozambique, which were heavily hunted for their ivory during a civil war a few decades ago, have lost their tusks — presumably because tuskless elephants are more likely to survive and pass the trait on to their offspring.”

“In theory, it’s advantageous to be born without tusks in areas where poachers are active, Hendry said. But tusklessness also has its downsides. Elephants need their tusks to dig, lift objects, and defend themselves. The hulking incisors are not useless appendages.

The genes that seem to make female elephants tuskless also appear to prevent mothers from giving birth to male calves — that’s why all the tuskless elephants in the park are female, Pringle said. (Some mothers did give birth to males with tusks, who likely didn’t inherit the gene.) Over time, a shift in the sex of elephants could have consequences for population growth.

There are also potential costs to African grasslands, which are among the rarest and most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth, the study authors write. By turning over soil in search of food and minerals and gouging trees with their tusks, African savanna elephants prevent forests from growing too dense and help maintain grasslands. That’s why they’re considered “engineers” of the ecosystem. If they lose their tusks, a whole web of plants and animals may feel the impact.

“This evolutionary change could have massive cascading ecological influences,” Hendry said.”

Why Ethiopia wants to expel UN officials sounding the alarm on famine

“A civil war between Ethiopia’s federal government and the country’s northern Tigray region, which began late last year, has led to widespread atrocities and created famine conditions in parts of the country. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s decision to expel UN officials from the country comes after they raised concerns about the worsening humanitarian situation.

UN officials have repeatedly warned that Ethiopia’s government is blocking the movement of critical supplies — like medicine, food, and fuel — into the Tigray region, with as little as 10 percent of the needed humanitarian supplies being allowed in. Those accusations were echoed this week by the head of the UN’s humanitarian aid arm, as well as by a UN report finding the region on the brink of famine.”

“Dying by blood or by hunger”: The war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, explained

“More than 60,000 refugees have fled to neighboring Sudan since the fighting began in November, and humanitarian groups — many of which remain cut off from parts of Tigray — say the security situation has likely displaced thousands of people internally.

The United Nations estimates that of Tigray’s 6 million people, 4.5 million are in need of food aid. A recent report from the World Peace Foundation warns of the risk of famine and mass starvation as people are displaced and crops, livestock, and the tools needed to make and collect food are destroyed.

One witness in Tigray, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he fears for his safety, told me that Eritrean soldiers will kill an ox and eat just one leg, leaving the rest of the carcass to rot. “The people are either dying by blood or by hunger,” he said by phone from Mekele, Tigray’s capital, earlier this month.

Prime Minister Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient who was once seen as the country’s peacemaker and a democratic liberalizer, is now leading a country that is beginning to turn on itself.

Violence and ethnic tensions are flaring up in other parts of Ethiopia. Sudanese and Ethiopian troops have clashed in a disputed border territory, a sign of how Tigray’s unrest is spilling over into an already volatile neighborhood where Ethiopia had been viewed, at least by some international partners, as a stabilizing force.

The war in Tigray has no clear end, and the reports of killing and rape and looting are still happening. “Everybody is just waiting, just waiting — not to live, but waiting for what will happen tomorrow, or in the night,” the man in Mekele said.”