Two's company

Published: Saturday 15 July 2000

Recent findings show that Africa is home not to one, as was common knowledge, but two species of elephants. For many years, some zoologists have suspected that this might be the case, as African elephants tend to be stockier than the savannah elephants and also have straighter tusks and rounder ears. But the theory was never really confirmed. Researchers at the Natural History Museum in Paris tested the deoxyribosenucleic acid (DNA) from mitochondria -- the maternally inherited energy-providing structures found in cells of an African elephant. To their surprise, preliminary results showed that this mitochondria differs from those of savannah elephants as much as they do from Asian elephants. Their later research, which they are preparing to submit for publication, shows that differences of a similar magnitude also exist between the animals' nuclear DNA. "The differences suggest that we probably have got two species of elephant in Africa," says team member Vronique Barriel. "The results are very important for conservation reasons," he adds ( New Scientist , Vol 166, No 2232).

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