Researchers see 'evolution in reverse' as hunters kill off prized animals with the biggest antlers and pelts.
Some of the most iconic photographs of Teddy Roosevelt, one of the first conservationists in American politics, show the president posing companionably with the prizes of his trophy hunts. An elephant felled in Africa in 1909 points its tusks skyward; a Cape buffalo, crowned with horns in the shape of a handlebar mustache, slumps in a Kenyan swamp. In North America, he stalked deer, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep and elk, which he called "lordly game" for their majestic antlers. What's remarkable about these photographs is not that they depict a hunter who was also naturalist John Muir's staunchest political ally. It's that just 100 years after his expeditions, many of the kind of magnificent trophies he routinely captured are becoming rare.
Elk still range across parts of North America, but every hunting season brings a greater challenge to find the sought-after bull with a towering spread of antlers. Africa and Asia still have elephants, but Roosevelt would have regarded most of them as freaks, because they don't have tusks. Researchers describe what's happening as none other than the selection process that Darwin made famous: the fittest of a species survive to reproduce and pass along their traits to succeeding generations, while the traits of the unfit gradually disappear. Selective hunting—picking out individuals with the best horns or antlers, or the largest piece of hide—works in reverse: the evolutionary loser is not the small and defenseless, but the biggest and best-equipped to win mates or fend off attackers.
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Tusked elephants, like the old dominant males on Ram Mountain, were "genetically 'better' individuals," says Festa-Bianchet. "When you take them systematically out of the population for several years, you end up leaving essentially a bunch of losers doing the breeding."
[Lily Huang. It’s Survival of the Weak and Scrawny. NEWSWEEK. Published Jan 3, 2009. From the magazine issue dated Jan 12, 2009]
This is not the first time someone's made this sort of observation.
At the age of sixteen, Madison was sent to the German city of Dresden, where for the next four years European tutors provided him with the best possible classical education. During this tie he managed to travel to every country in Europe (where he visited all the zoos and most of the natural history museums of the continent) and throughout North Africa and the Middle East as well. But his most significant visit was to Moritzburg, the baroque hunting lodge just outside Dresden, where my guess is that Grant found himself transfixed by the extensive collection of red deer antlers. The trophies--which had been collected three hundred years earlier--were impressively large, and the more the young student stared at them the more troubled he became. At some point, it occurred to him what was amiss: antlers of that size simply did not exist anymore on living European deer. Grant realized that, contrary to the Victorian understanding of evolutionary progress, the red deer had been getting smaller and smaller over the years. The species was actually degenerating.
Furthermore, Grant's naturalistically inclined mind apparently put together what he knew of the geographic range of the red deer, along with the sizes of the various specimens he had encountered in the wild, and he instantly envisioned a perfect continuum: At the far eastern edge of the red deer's range (in the Caucasus) the animal was almost as large as it had been in the sixteenth century. But toward the west (in the Carpathians) the deer began to diminish in size. Even farther west (in Saxony) the stags were smaller still, and at the far western limit of the animal's range (in Scotland) the red deer had shrunk to their smallest proportions.
Grant reasoned that this decline in size was indubitably the result of trophy hunting. Trophy hunters, of course, target the largest bulls with the finest antlers, which leaves the breeding to the inferior males. As one moves from east to west across Europe, the human population increases, as does the number of hunters, and the inevitable result is an ever-greater decline across space, and over time, in the size and vigor of the deer stock. In other words, as human civilization advanced, the deer declined. And Grant was struck by the fact that if the trend were to continue, the red deer would diminish in size and vitality to the point where ultimately the species would not be able to survive in the wild.
[Jonathan Spiro. Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant. Vermont: 2008. pp. 7-8.]
I don't foresee Newsweek opening their pages to consideration of human dysgenic breeding trends any time soon. Madison Grant, of course, wasn't so limited.
Indeed, wherever one looks in the world, the Nordics appear to be an endangered species. [. . .] The demographic decline of the European Nordics is hastened by the fact that they are currently killing each other off in the fratricidal Great War, which is nothing less than "class suicide on a gigantic scale."
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Even in North America, the habitat to which they are so well acclimated, the Nordics are passing from the scene. "Survival of the fittest," after all, means the survival of the type best adapted to prevailing environmental conditions. In colonial times, the environment that confronted the settlers was an untamed continent, and survival entailed clearing the forests and fighting the Indians--tasks for which the Nordics were eminently suited. But the United States has changed from an agricultural to a manufacturing society, and "the type of man that flourishes in the fields is not the type of man that thrives in the factory." The truth is that the dark, little immigrant can operate a machine and navigate a sweatshop far better than "the big, clumsy, and somewhat heavy Nordic blond, who needs exercise, meat, and air, and cannot live under Ghetto conditions." It is with great pain that Grant is forced to admit that, "from the point of view of race," the environment of his homeland is leading to the "survival of the unfit."
Little wonder that America patricians are refusing to bring children into a society where they must compete with the Italians, the Slovaks, and the Jews. And, as with the Red Deer of Moritzburg Castle, when the fittest males do not breed, the result is racial degeneration. The old-stock American is "withdrawing from the scene, abandoning to these aliens the land which he conquered and developed."
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But, of course, there is hope, and it is provided by the new faith of eugenics. Unfortunately, so long as the United States is a democracy, it will be extremely difficult to enact a eugenic program. Ever since "the loose thinkers of the French Revolution and their American mimics" inflicted on us "the dogma of the brotherhood of man," Americans have had a perverse fondness for democracy. The consequences of republican government were not overly detrimental as long as the electorate was predominantly Nordic. But in the late nineteenth century the country had permitted the beaten men of beaten races to enter its portals, and then carlessly granted political rights to these incoming "plebeians." The effect of universal suffrage has been to secure "the transfer of power . . . from a Nordic aristocracy to lower classes predominantly of Alpine and Mediterranean extraction." And it is difficult to see how the enfranchised "helots," indoctrinated by "the assumption that environment and not heredity is the controlling factor in human development," will ever allow the government they now control to enact eugenic measures.
[Spiro. pp. 153-155]