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How the Elephant Lost its Tusks

Topic: Evolution and inheritance

Elephants are in crisis – ivory poaching and habitat loss have led to disastrous declines in populations. In response, female African elephants are evolving a startling new survival tactic: being born without tusks.

This unit of activities encourages pupils to relate animal adaptation to concepts of natural selection and evolution in the contemporary and dramatic context of declining elephant populations. Pupils will take the role of scientific researchers to advise a Tusk Task Force about the issues. They will also participate in a simulation game to show how pressure from poachers is driving the evolution of tusklessness.

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• recognise that species can change (evolve) over time and that sometimes this change can happen over just a few generations
• explain that high levels of poaching mean that tuskless elephants have a survival advantage and so this characteristic is more likely to be passed on to the next generation
• discuss reasons for the decline in elephant populations and identify methods being used in elephant conservation

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