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IDing Ivory Poachers

September 26, 2018

Elephant DNA and complex data analysis are helping to prosecute poachers.

Transcript

Tusks from a 2015 ivory seizure in Singapore. (Center for Conservation Biology University of Washington)

Tusks from a 2015 ivory seizure in Singapore. (Center for Conservation Biology University of Washington)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Dead elephants ID their killers. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Using a detailed map of African elephant populations based on their DNA, scientists can now match the tusk of a poached elephant to the time and place where it was killed. In the journal Science Advances, University of Washington biologist Samuel Wasser and his colleagues describe how that information can help find the kingpins behind the poaching.

SAMUEL WASSER (University of Washington):

To our surprise, we found that over the last decade, virtually 100 percent of the ivory was coming from just two places. ­­The same cartel is pulling the ivory out of the same place over and over again, and he’s probably in fact funding the operations of the poachers on the ground.

HIRSHON:

By matching events on the ground with ivory seized at major ports, along with suspicious financial transactions and other clues, they can prosecute suspects who have eluded justice for years. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon