DNA Forensics May Prevent Elephant Poaching
Law enforcement officials investigating the source of confiscated ivory (605 elephant tusks) in Hong Kong had no clue where the stash originated before leaving Douala, a port city in Cameroon. DNA technology, however, was able to verify that many of the tusks once belonged to forest elephants that lived in southern Gabon, near the Republic of Congo border.
Extracting elephant DNA from confiscated ivory could be an important tool to take wildlife investigations a step farther and to stop poaching at its source. Such expensive forensic work may become necessary to protect dwindling elephant populations and curb the illegal ivory market before it grows completely out of control.
"In big seizures, there's a very strong tendency to ship ivory out of a different country than where it's poached... It's a bit of a red herring," said Samuel Wasser, director of the University of Washington's Center for Conservation Biology and the lead author of the study, published in this month's issue of Conservation Biology (Full report >>). "The methods we developed are very important in that regard because it focuses where the poaching is ongoing." Read more >>
Wasser, S.K., W.J Clark, O. Drori, E.S. Kisamo, C. Mailand, B. Mutayoba, & M. Stephens. August 2008.Combating the Illegal Trade in African Elephant Ivory with DNA Forensics. Conservation Biology 22(4): 1065-1071. Full report >>