Little elephant is the first scientific record of dwarfism in the wild

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Biologists in Sri Lanka have published the first documented evidence of dwarfism in an adult wild animal. A male Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) measuring just over 1.5 meters (five feet) in height was seen in an aggressive encounter with another male of average size. The elephant's small stature was due to disproportionately short legs, according to the findings published in the IUCN/SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group journal Gajah. "The 'dwarf' was by far the main aggressor in the altercation and appeared to be older than the other, a young adult," states the study. "Other than for the disproportionately short legs, morphologically and behaviorally the dwarf appeared normal." 

Dwarfism is a condition in which either the limbs are disproportionately short relative to the body, or the whole body is in proportion but is smaller than usual. It can be caused by a number of genetic mutations, and is relatively common in humans. It has also been selectively bred in many domestic animals, such as dogs, cats and cattle. However, dwarfism in the wild is incredibly rare. 

"If you think about it, most animals, especially mammals, are either predators or prey. If you are either and are born with short limbs you would be at a very big disadvantage," Prithiviraj Fernando of the Centre for Conservation and Research, and one of the authors of the paper, told mongabay.com. "A dwarf prey animal is very likely to be caught by a predator and similarly, a dwarf predator would find it very difficult to catch prey. So such individuals are very unlikely to survive in the wild. Elephants in Sri Lanka are unique (together with those in Borneo) in that they have no predators. So he was very lucky that he was born here!" 

Written By: Claire Salisbury
continue to source article at news.mongabay.com

10 COMMENTS

  1. Oh dear. I can spot a fad a mile off. The search will now begin for others like this one to breed them up, and a few years from now the next generation of Paris Hiltons and Maria Careys will be carrying miniaturized elephants around in their purses, health problems of these creatures be damned. People suck.

    A male Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) measuring just over 1.5 meters (five feet) in height was seen in an aggressive encounter with another male of average size… “The ‘dwarf’ was by far the main aggressor in the altercation…

    Who knew pachyderm males were so similar to human ones? Short Elephant Syndrome?

    • In reply to #1 by Katy Cordeth:

      Who knew pachyderm males were so similar to human ones? Short Elephant Syndrome?

      Apparently the elephant was in something called Musth

      This ones got a tough life ahead, jeez, 1.5m is short even for a human male…

  2. “Also there may be an issue in mating. However, since elephants show a high degree of sexual dimorphism with males being much bigger [than females], he may be able to manage.”
    Read more at http://news.mongabay.com/2013/1219-salisbury-dwarf-elephant.html#fbCxe1WiziGhe7iM.99

    Even if he could “reach” the female elephants for mating, wouldn’t the other males kick the crap out of the little guy if he even tried to “reach”? The other males must be twice his size.

    • In reply to #3 by mmurray:

      So nobody got near enough to get DNA sample. Could you get it from faeces ?

      Michael

      Pretty sure you can’t. There might be some in his intestinal mucous, but it will be mixed with the DNA of the digested food and probably degraded by digestive acids.

  3. Well, given the height of a normal female elephant, this lad will not be able to pass on his gene mutation. He’s cute, but without assistance in pulling down yummy branches, he’ll have a limited range for food.

  4. Really? Natural dwarvism for the first time ?!
    What about for example the short legged dwarf island forms of the grey fox?

    It is no problem, to take DNA samples from the faeces, but you have to be shure, that you do not accidentially sample the faeces from the wrong animal…

  5. Evolutionary dwarfism…island dwarfism, however, is documented in the fossil record in dinosaurs though right? Tiny species of elephants also hunted by island dwelling homo floresiensis too right? Would these be different dwarf ‘species’ or ‘almost’ different species in much the same way as lions and tigers / donkeys, horses and zebras are different species (only by fluke being able to produce a fertile offspring like the recent fertile mule that was born)? Are we talking about something entirely different when we talk of such dwarfism here represented and evolutionary island dwarfism? Language is such an imprecise medium.

  6. It would be very helpful to have some DNA to sequence. I’d be interested to see the mutation, it’s type and even the locus of the gene. Then a little comparative molecular biology to see if the elephant’s condition parallels the human condition.

    Cool stuff, makes me want to know more.

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