Elephants could tame themselves. Scientists find evidence in DNA – ČT24 – Czech Television

Some animal species were domesticated by humans by purposefully changing their behavior – selecting animals that were friendly, less aggressive, and generally had traits that suited them. A typical example of this selection is dogs: the genes of such selected creatures became so dominant in their population that they spread. Similarly, people breed and breed cattle, rabbits or poultry.

A counterexample is cats. According to the available scientific information, they were able to tame themselves. As they moved around human settlements, they adapted to the conditions there. And gradually their characteristics became so close to humans that they could live with them under one roof.

A new scientific study has described the domestication of larger animals – elephants – like cats.

According to an international team of American, Spanish and Dutch scientists, elephants have evidence of self-mating in their genes. They found most of them related to automatic domestication.

How animals imitated humans

The authors of the work began with how human evolution worked to acquire the characteristics that allowed him to live in organized groups and later societies, cities and even states.

Homo sapiens, after generations of evolution, have acquired characteristics that allow them to cooperate better with each other, tolerate differences better, and generally behave less aggressively towards others. Later, man intentionally and sometimes unknowingly transmitted these qualities to other creatures around him.

Biologists observe a very similar evolution in our closest relatives, bonobos. They, like humans, belong to the least aggressive creatures, and above all, they have built complex systems that allow to compensate for intra-species aggression in other ways.

In the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists describe what self-mating of elephants might look like. They are based on the fact that, like humans and bonobos, all three species of octopuses show a relatively low level of aggression, a high level of behavior that promotes social cohesion towards each other, and another interesting feature: a longer developmental period. from young people.

In total, the authors of this study found nineteen characteristics associated with self-mating that are shared by humans, bonobos, and elephants. They then found evidence of more than six hundred genes in the DNA of African elephants that appear to have evolved very quickly – some of which are also associated with domestication in other animal species.

“Our results support the idea that elephants, like humans and bonobos, can domesticate themselves,” the researchers said. And they posit several possible reasons why this happens with elephants—but all are experimental so far.

Size and discrimination in food

Elephants are perhaps predestined for domestication because of other characteristics. For how big they are, they actually have almost no natural enemies, so they don’t really need aggression to survive. At the same time, they are quite picky about food; sharing these resources could also allow them to work better together.

The authors also add that some event may have occurred in the species’ past that significantly shifted the evolution of elephants toward a social species. This could be some kind of ecological disaster, for example, when elephants or their direct ancestors had to “squeeze” more.

However, additional genetic evidence supports the team’s argument. However, outside scientists say more research will be needed to confirm this hypothesis.

The authors acknowledge that this is only a hypothesis, but consider it sufficiently strong to be supported by the evidence. But other scientists are more skeptical. For example, primatologist Richard Wrangham from Harvard University Scientific magazine “Science” published information about this, these are very strong results. According to him, the friendly behavior of elephants can be better explained than self-marriage, for example, by the size of their brains.

Still, he supports the hypothesis and says it’s important to study it better. It may turn out that this development, based on the simultaneous evolution of several species, is more common in nature than previously thought.

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