Science: DNA Analysis Might Help Limit Ivory Smuggling

The Story:

A study by the Center for Environmental Forensic Science at the University of Washington looks at the DNA of elephant tusks recovered by authorities engaged in anti-smuggling and anti-poaching operations in Africa indicates that there are only three major criminal networks that dominate that black-market industry.


The tusk/ivory black market is a booming business, and countries seeking to protect their elephant population from diminution and even possible extinction must expend considerable resources even to put a dent in it. On Feb. 2 of this year, for example, one raid by Nigerian authorities seized tusks and scales worth nearly US $7.4 million on the black market. Advances in DNA science may have given anti-poaching efforts a boost.

Strange New Worlds:

Samuel Wasser, a co-author of the DNA study, said: “If you can stop the trade where the ivory is being consolidated and exported out of the country, those are really the key players.” Law enforcement otherwise focuses on expendable low-level poachers who are easy for the criminal organizations to replace.

The database for the study, published in the journal Nature: Human Behavior includes samples from the tusks of more than 4,300 elephants trafficked out of Africa between 1995 and 2022.


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