Despite a long-standing international ban on ivory trade, African elephants continue to be killed in large numbers for their prized tusks. But a team headed by a University of Washington biologist has devised a new means of determining the geographic origin of ivory that could prove a potent tool in slowing elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade by identifying hot spots where enforcement should be increased.
It is relatively easy to monitor elephant populations with flights over the open savannas of eastern, central and southern Africa, but it is much harder to do the same in the dense forests of central and western Africa. Those forests are where elephants are currently being slaughtered wholesale, said Samuel Wasser, who holds the UW’s endowed chair of conservation biology and is director of the Center for Conservation Biology. "My colleagues working in the forests are saying, ’There are no elephants left here,’" he said. "That’s the problem – in the forest you don’t notice the change in population until it’s so dramatic that it’s almost too late to do anything about it."
Wasser is lead author of a paper describing the new means of determining ivory origins, being published the week of Sept. 27 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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