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Genes separate Africa’s elephant herds

Forest and savanna species prove distinct in genetic analysis

African elephants have new distant cousins — other African elephants.

A genetic analysis of elephants and their extinct relatives, woolly mammoths and mastodons, shows that forest-dwelling African elephants are a separate species from Africa’s savanna elephants. The research, which appeared December 21 in PLoS Biology, “does a very thorough job of nailing shut the coffin on some of the more heretical theories” about elephant evolution, says Stephen O’Brien, a geneticist who studies genomic diversity at the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Md., and who was not involved in the research.

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