Yahoo News United Kingdom: Elephant DNA may spur crackdown on illegal ivory trade

The number of seizures sent to his lab has greatly increased since 2013, when an global body unanimously decided that all large shipments of seized ivory should be subjected to forensic DNA testing to pinpoint their origin.

There were also two hotspots prior to 2006: Zambia and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, but the two were no longer areas where elephants are targeted after that time, partly because of lack of elephant, Wasser said.

“When you’re losing a tenth of the population a year, you have to do something more urgent – nail down where the major killing is happening and stop it at the source”, Wasser said.

“Africa is a huge continent, and poaching is occurring everywhere”.

In the new study, the scientists analyzed 28 large ivory seizures, each more than half a ton, made between 1996 and 2014. “But when you look at large ivory seizures, which represent 70% of illegal ivory by weight, you get a different picture”. We developed methods to extract DNA from ivory.

The results surprised the team.

Demand for ivory from fast-growing Asian economies such as China and Vietnam, where it is turned into jewels and ornaments, has led to a spike in poaching across Africa. Considered the world’s second-largest rainforest, it spans portions of Gabon, the Republic of Congo, southeastern Cameroon, and an adjacent reserve in the Central African Republic.

More than 85 percent of the savanna elephant ivory seized after 2006 was traced to East Africa, mainly from the Selous Game Reserve in southeastern Tanzania and the Niassa Reserve in adjacent northern Mozambique.

The seizures, though, happened at ports and airports in a variety of African countries.

Bill Clark of Interpol’s environmental crime program, who participated in the research, said the DNA work helps his organisation decide where to focus efforts combating ivory trafficking.

But that was where the paper trail ended.

Roberts further highlighted that among the items that are legal to bring into the United States are certified antiques or hunting trophies such as elephant tusks brought back from hunting trips to Africa. Mr. Clark said. Then, they have crosschecked the results with DNA extracted from live elephants, in order to identify the origin of the ivory and complete an actual poaching map. Tanzania has many ports. It shows, for example, that most of ivory was shipped via other countries, not where it was poached. “Why smuggle it to a landlocked country?” “There are false trails put down intentionally”, he said. The findings should also force countries to stop playing down the prevalence of the trade in their country, he said.

The worst area for poaching was identified as Tanzania and nearby parts of Mozambique.

A worldwide ivory trade ban was approved in 1989 after Africa’s elephant population plunged from 1.2 million to 600 000 that decade. In one national park, almost 12,000 disappeared in just one year, with the population falling from more than 20,000 to 8,200. “We expect to launch an extensive operation in search of the lost elephants”, Nyalandu told Tanzania Daily News.

With some 10 percent of the population falling prey to human greed each year, Wasser was determined to use the latest scientific techniques to turn the tide. That’s sustaining the ivory demand in Asia, where stores sell ivory trinkets that add up to billions of dollars in sales on the black market.

A key to saving elephants may be their own dung. As part of Africa’s Big Five species, along with the lion, the rhinoceros, the hippopotamus, and the giraffe, the elephant is one of the continent’s main drivers of tourism-a boon to the African economy.

Even with the new information, conservationists and law enforcement have their work cut out for them.

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