DNA Testing of Elephant Ivory Is Serving to Division of Homeland Safety Cease Unlawful Poaching

Forensic science is getting higher yearly, and even animal conservationists are harnessing it to cease unlawful poaching and buying and selling. In findings printed at present within the journal Nature Human Behaviour, College of Washington scientists define their work with the U.S. Division of Homeland of Safety to uncover a world community of elephant ivory traffickers—all due to DNA testing.

The brand new examine, which examined greater than 4,000 African elephant tusks seized over 17 years in 12 African nations, reveals the grave extent of unlawful ivory buying and selling the world over. Nevertheless it additionally gives some insights that might assist authorities shut down these commerce networks and bolster efforts to guard elephant species in Africa.

“These strategies are displaying us {that a} handful of networks are behind a majority of smuggled ivory, and that the connections between these networks are deeper than even our earlier analysis confirmed,” Samuel Wasser, a UW biologist who led the brand new examine, mentioned in a press release.

Tusks from an ivory seizure in 2015 in Singapore after they’ve been sorted into pairs by the method developed by Wasser and his crew.

Heart for Environmental Forensic Science/College of Washington

Wasser and his crew aren’t new to this work—they launched findings in 2018 that used genetic testing to determine tusks that got here from the identical elephant however had been separated and smuggled into totally different shipments earlier than being seized. Armed with the data of how shipments in numerous components of the world got here from the identical origin level, authorities had been capable of pin down fashionable unlawful commerce routes involving three African ports (Mombasa, Kenya; Entebbe, Uganda; and Lomé, Togo.)

The brand new examine is a big step up from there. Wasser and his crew used genetic testing to determine not simply if tusks got here from the identical elephant, but additionally in the event that they got here from the identical household of elephants—be they mother and father and offspring, siblings, half-siblings, or different relationships.

Via testing of greater than 4,320 tusks from 49 shipments seized from 2002 to 2019, the crew confirmed that almost all poachers are looking the identical elephant populations yr after yr, and that it’s seemingly the identical handful of cartel networks which can be buying and smuggling these tusks out of Africa.

Wasser (left) and his crew pattern ivory from tusks in Malaysia in 2014.

Malaysia Division of Nationwide Parks

A deeper evaluation additionally confirmed how these cartels shifted the majority of their operations from Tanzania within the early 2000s to Kenya and Uganda. Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo are additionally newer hotspots for ivory smuggling, and there’s been a brand new shift of unlawful exports from Togo to Nigeria.

Wasser expects the brand new information to assist make it simpler to prosecute unlawful ivory merchants and nail down their accountability for a broader array of seizures, which might result in extra extreme penalties.

“By linking particular person seizures, we’re laying out entire smuggling networks which can be making an attempt to get these tusks off the continent,” mentioned Wasser.

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