Thursday, April 10, 2014

TRACKING POACHERS THROUGH TUSKS

 

Every day, about 100 elephants are killed for their ivory. It is estimated that the species will die out within the next 50 to 100 years if nothing is done to curtail the illegal ivory trade.

UW research associate professor Sam Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology, has dedicated his life to minimizing the negative impacts of humanity’s growth upon wildlife populations, with a special interest in elephant population decimation.

In order to stave off an elephant-free future, Wasser and his team have found a way to track where elephants are killed and then where the ivory is shipped from. While in Africa in the ’80s, he and a large team of researchers collected scat from all across Africa as a baseline of genetic information, which they are now using with tusks seized by authorities.

According to Celia Mailand, research scientist at Wasser’s conservation center, the project has been one of the biggest learning experiences of her life. When she started at the center as an undergrad, they didn’t know how to get the DNA out of the ivory.

Using 16 genetic markers — three more genetic markers than for humans — scientists can compare DNA from seized ivory to the baseline scat DNA in order to determine a map of hot spots where poachers work.

After killing an elephant, poachers and dealers gather the tusks into a large shipment and send them out into the world. The vast majority of tusks, according to Wasser, are shipped through Tanzania, Nigeria, and other African countries. READ FULL STORY HERE

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