Scientists Undertake DNA Mapping to Crackdown on Illegal Ivory Trade in Africa

Scientists Undertake DNA Mapping to Crackdown on Illegal Ivory Trade in Africa

In a bid to piece together the puzzle of origin of ivory, which is subjected to illegal international trade, scientists from the University of Washington have conducted DNA mapping, wherein they have matched DNA from elephant dung with DNA extracted from ivory.

Scientists from the University of Washington have matched DNA from elephant dung with DNA extracted from ivory, to track down poachers who have been involved in illegal ivory trade across borders.

For the purpose of the study, the researchers analyzed dung samples from 1,350 elephants, including both savannah and forest elephants, in 71 locations across 29 African countries. They pegged these against samples procured through 28 ivory seizures made between 1996 and 2014.

By matching the DNA from dung samples with DNA from the tusks seized, the researchers were more or less able to zero in on the location of elephant killings. They concluded that the majority of savannah elephant tusks came from Tanzania and Mozambique, while most forest elephant tusks were from Gabon, the Republic of Congo or the Central African Republic.

The researchers held that illegal ivory trade fueled the killing of over 50,000 African elephants each year and results in 40-50 tons of seized ivory. Each stockpile that they seized had contained half a ton of tusks or more. Due to the unrestrained elephant killings across two main hotspots in Africa, about one-tenth of the population is being lost each year due to which, presently, only about 470,000 African elephants were left.

The researchers hoped that the study would put pressure on African nations to take tougher action against poachers. They opined that the research could help law enforcement agencies to tackle the illegal ivory trade that spawns international borders. They added that such an effort would bring together the international community to fight this menace of illegal ivory trade.

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