Elephant evolution, new research

This is a 2015 Italian video on on the extinct elephant species Elephas antiquus, aka Palaeoloxodon antiquus.

A new theory on elephant evolution. Though not as as drastic as the recent theory advocating major changes in the dinosaur family tree.

From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the USA:

Genetic study shakes up the elephant family tree

June 6, 2017

Summary: New research reveals that a species of giant elephant that lived 1.5 million to 100,000 years ago — ranging across Eurasia before it went extinct — is more closely related to today’s African forest elephant than the forest elephant is to its nearest living relative, the African savanna elephant. Understanding elephant evolution is key to protecting present-day elephants from extinction, researchers say.

New research reveals that a species of giant elephant that lived 1.5 million to 100,000 years ago — ranging across Eurasia before it went extinct — is more closely related to today’s African forest elephant than the forest elephant is to its nearest living relative, the African savanna elephant.

The study challenges a long-held assumption among paleontologists that the extinct giant, Palaeoloxodon antiquus, was most closely related to the Asian elephant. The findings, reported in the journal eLife, also add to the evidence that today’s African elephants belong to two distinct species, not one, as was once assumed.

Understanding their genetic heritage is key to keeping today’s elephants from going extinct, said University of Illinois animal sciences professor Alfred Roca, a co-author of the new study. Roca led research in the early 2000s that provided the first genetic evidence that African elephants belonged to two distinct species. Subsequent studies have confirmed this, as does the new research.

“We’ve had really good genetic evidence since the year 2001 that forest and savanna elephants in Africa are two different species, but it’s been very difficult to convince conservation agencies that that’s the case,” Roca said. “With the new genetic evidence from Palaeoloxodon, it becomes almost impossible to argue that the elephants now living in Africa belong to a single species.”

For the new analysis, scientists looked at two lines of evidence from African and Asian elephants, woolly mammoths and P. antiquus. They analyzed mitochondrial DNA, which is passed only from mothers to their offspring, and nuclear DNA, which is a blend of paternal and maternal genes.

The researchers relied on the most sensitive laboratory techniques to extract and amplify the DNA in P. antiquus bones from two sites in Germany — among the first DNA successfully collected from such ancient bones from a temperate climate.

“Up until now, genetic research on bones that are hundreds of thousands of years old has almost exclusively relied on fossils collected in permafrost,” said Matthias Meyer, a researcher from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and first author of the paper. “It is encouraging to see that recent advances in laboratory methods are now enabling us to recover very old DNA sequences also from warmer places, where DNA degrades at a much faster rate.”

The mitochondrial analysis revealed that a shared ancestor of P. antiquus and the African forest elephant lived sometime between 1.5 million and 3.5 million years ago. Their closest shared ancestor with the African savanna elephant lived between 3.9 and 7 million years ago.

The nuclear DNA told the same story, the researchers report.

“From the study of bone morphology, people thought Palaeoloxodon was closer to the Asian elephant. But from the molecular data, we found they are much closer to the African forest elephant,” said research scientist Yasuko Ishida, who led the mitochondrial sequencing of modern elephants with Roca.

“Palaeoloxodon antiquus is a sister to the African forest elephant; it is not a sister to the Asian elephant or the African savanna elephant,” Roca said.

“Paleogenomics has already revolutionized our view of human evolution, and now the same is happening for other mammalian groups,” said study co-author Michael Hofreiter from the University of Potsdam, an expert on evolutionary genomics. “I am sure elephants are only the first step and in the future, we will see surprises with regard to the evolution of other species as well.”

Understanding the genetic heritage of elephants is vital to protecting the living remnant populations in Africa and beyond, Roca said.

“More than two-thirds of the remaining forest elephants in Africa have been killed over the last 15 years or so,” Roca said. “Forest elephants are among the most endangered elephant populations on the planet. Some conservation agencies don’t recognize African forest elephants as a distinct species, and these animals’ conservation needs have been neglected.”

See also here.

British Conservatives endanger elephants

This video says about itself:

7 April 2008

Watch this moving video as the wild herd stumbles across an elephant carcass and ceremoniously touch the bones, as if grieving for their loss.

From the BBC.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Another elephant in the Tory room

Friday 2nd June 2017

PETER FROST has an unusual ally in Prince William in warning that government policy on ivory trading could prove fatal for one of Africa’s endangered species

THERESA MAY has made more U-turns than the clown’s car in Billy Smart’s circus. And she has dropped promised policies and buried others too.

So many, in fact, that you might have missed her abandonment of Tory promises to ban the sale of ivory in Britain. One person who hasn’t is the second-in-line heir to the throne, William Windsor.

Along with conservation groups, environmental campaigners, politicians and celebrities, he has said that the reversal in policy would lead to the illegal killing of thousands of elephants, and urged the government to implement a total ban on all ivory trade.

The Conservative manifesto at the last general election vowed that a Tory government, if elected, would press for a total ban on ivory sales. After the election, May and Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom seemed to be ready to put the policy into law.

Then, as with so many Tory promises from May and her gang, it simply disappeared. There is no mention of the ban in the Tory 2017 manifesto.

Sneakily, May, Leadsom and the Tories have decided to abandon their previous commitment to introducing a total ban on the ivory trade in Britain. They have done it after heavy lobbying from wealthy London antiques traders who have been pressing the Prime Minister hard to drop the ban.

The most powerful antique traders association is the British Antique Dealers’ Association. It’s president is Lady Victoria Borwick, Tory MP for Kensington and long-term pal and ally of May.

On average, an elephant is killed every 15 minutes for its ivory and their population has fallen by almost a third in Africa since 2007. As I have warned in these pages before, the African elephant population is hurtling towards extinction in the wild.

By far the biggest threat comes from poaching for ivory for the illegal trade in objects and artefacts collected by those with far more money than either good taste or environmental responsibility.

Interestingly, this ivory policy reversal puts May and her Tories in direct conflict with Windsor, who has been a vocal supporter of a total ban on ivory sales. The Prince is patron of Tusk, one of the charities that have linked ivory sales in Britain to the slaughter of 30,000 elephants a year in Africa alone.

Will we see the Duke of Cambridge campaigning for Labour, which has pledged to introduce the total ban he has been lobbying for?

Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom is under increasing pressure to make good on the Tory manifesto commitment to ban Britain’s ivory trade after China announced it would close down its domestic ivory market.

At the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) meeting in Johannesburg last year, 182 nations gathered and agreed for the first time in its history that national ivory markets should be closed rather than regulated.

Many countries, including Britain, have allowed antique and other ivory pieces to be bought and sold. But the Cites nations agreed unanimously that every state should take all necessary steps to close their domestic markets for commercial trade in raw and worked ivory as a matter of urgency.

“There is no legal market that doesn’t contribute to the illegal trade,” said Susan Lieberman of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Conservation organisations, including a charity championed by Windsor, say that by allowing the trade to continue Britain is fuelling the annual slaughter of thousands of elephants. A recent study suggested that this country is now the third-largest supplier of illegal ivory items to the US. The legal ivory trade here provides cover to criminals to launder illegal ivory through Britain.

In theory, it is only legal to sell items made from elephant ivory if it can be proved to have been manufactured before June 1 1947. But more modern poached ivory can be distressed to look older and circumvent regulations. Provenance proving an ivory artefact is old and therefore legal can be all too easily forged.

Ivory can come from many animals as well as elephants — from the hippopotamus, walrus, some whales, hogs and boars and much still comes from the long extinct woolly mammoth.

Mammoth ivory is found in melting glaciers, mostly in Siberia, and trade in it is legal. Tons of it was imported in the past and it was so common that many Victorian and Edwardian pianos had mammoth keys.

Today, many items made from recently poached elephant ivory change hands for huge amounts of money in London’s expensive antique emporiums and prestigious auction houses.

It is exported legally and illegally to the US and China, both of whom have many ivory collectors prepared to buy new ivory items despite the legal ban.

Boris Johnson, William Hague and former Defra secretary Owen Paterson all support a total ban on the sale of any ivory, while the Labour Party introduced a pledge for a total ban on ivory trading in its 2017 manifesto.

There are many good reasons to vote Labour in next week’s election and one of them is to save the biggest land animal on the face of the Earth from extinction by poaching.

The other is that perhaps the man who would be king thinks you should.

Elephants learn to work together

This video says about itself:

Elephants Learn To Work Together – Super Smart Animals – BBC Earth

2 June 2017

These amazing [Asian] elephants are put through their paces to challenge their cognitive ability when dealing with a complex level of cooperation, more often associated with human beings.

African honey bees help elephants and farmers

This video says about itself:

African honey bees change lives and save elephants

14 November 2015

The Elephants and Bees Project is an innovative study using an in-depth understanding of elephant behaviour to reduce damage from crop-raiding elephants using their instinctive avoidance of African honey bees. The project explores the use of novel Beehive Fences as a natural elephant deterrent creating a social and economic boost to poverty-stricken rural communities through pollination services and the sustainable harvesting of “Elephant-Friendly Honey”.

Elephants & Bees is thrilled to share this short video on the project’s amazing milestones. Get to learn how bees are bringing harmony to communities that live with wildlife.

By Lucy King from Kenya:

New Elephants and Bees Video by FFN winner Lucy King

An update from Lucy King, our Future for Nature Award winner 2013. She just released the first ever Elephant and Bees Project Video [see above] …

“The establishment of the Elephants and Bees Research Center in late 2013 on an acre of donated land from, and in the heart of, the wonderful Sagalla community just outside Tsavo East National Park has boosted our hands-on involvement in this community lead research project and enabled us to establish a more in-depth research program in the heart of this human-elephant conflict hotspot. The farmers we are collaborating with to test our novel beehive fence design are fully engaged in the research and their livelihoods are flourishing thanks to reduced elephant crop-raids, pollination services and the sustainable harvesting and sales of delicious ‘Elephant-Friendly Honey’.

Beyond our Tsavo-based Elephants and Bees Research Center, we have been supporting the establishment of beehive fence projects being initiated by new partners in both Africa and Asia. Data is slowly coming in from trial beehive fence sites in Tanzania, Botswana, Uganda and Mozambique, and this year new projects have started in Chad, South Africa, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. The growing interest from all over Africa and Asia has encouraged us that our holistic concept of deploying beehive fences as a sustainable human-elephant conflict reduction approach is viable for those subsistence farmers living side by side with these vulnerable and endangered pachyderms.”

Visit her website for more information.

Cambodian elephants saved from Pentagon bomb crater

The Cambodian elephants in the bomb crater, AFP photo

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Herd of elephants rescued from Cambodian bomb crater

Today, 16:18

A rescue team has saved a herd of elephants after four days in an old bomb crater. The endangered animals would have been killed by hunger if villagers would not have discovered them.

The eleven animals, including a youngster, got stuck when they tried to drink from the 3 meter deep crater. The pit was made many years ago [during the Vietnam war] by a United States bombing in the country.

The elephants were freed by digging a path from the pit. Meanwhile, water was also sprayed into the hole to dilute the mud. After their rescue, the animals walked back into the woods.

The rescue of 11 Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus) from a mud hole inside the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia, on 24th March 2017 avoided a tragedy for wildlife conservation in Cambodia: here.