Scientists use DNA analysis to track elephant poaching networks
Friday, February 18, 2022
Findings published Monday by a team composed mostly of African elephants.Center for Forensic Science researchers in report using a form of techniques originally designed for human teeth to track from
The scientists, in collaboration with the United States , identified the criminal networks that killed the endangered animals and smuggled their valuable tusks across national borders.
The scientists took DNA samples from 4,320 tusks taken from both(Loxodonta africana) and (Loxodonta cyclotis) elephants that were confiscated from 49 separate ivory smuggling events in twelve countries from 2002 to 2019. The scientists found that teeth from the closely related elephants, or even two tusks from the same individual, often surfaced in different shipments that transited through the same ports. The data also showed when criminal networks shifted their operations from between port cities. They inferred poachers were making kills, then separating the tusks at some point along the smuggling route.
The team had been studying DNA analysis on poached tusks for years: in 2018, they found two tusks from different shipments had come from the same animal, which indicated both shipments were from the same kill and transited by the same criminal network. This is the first report of DNA identification tusks that came from elephants in the same families.
Lead author Dr Samuel Wasser said: "Identifying close relatives indicates that poachers are likely going back to the same populations repeatedly — year after year — and tusks are then acquired and smuggled out of Africa on container ships by the same criminal network." He added: "This criminal strategy makes it much harder for authorities to track and seize these shipments because of the immense pressure they are under to move large volumes of containers quickly through ports."
Wasser said similar studies will provide law enforcement groups access to a greater range of evidence with which to prosecute poachers and their criminal partners by providing verifiable links between different caches of captured ivory. The researchers concluded in their paper that law enforcement could use their information to discern the ways in which poachers are collaborating.
Humans have used the ivory from elephant tusks to make art, decorations, and tools since prehistory. Many countries have since outlawed the sale of ivory, but poachers continue to kill tens of thousands of elephants each year.
- Samuel K. Wasser, Charles J. Wolock, Mary K. Kuhner, John E. Brown III, Chris Morris, Ryan J. Horwitz, Anna Wong, Charlene J. Fernandez, Moses Y. Otiende, Yves Hoareau, Zofia A. Kaliszewska, Eunjin Jeon, Kin-Lan Han & Bruce S. Weir. Elephant genotypes reveal the size and connectivity of transnational ivory traffickers (Abstract). , 2022; ': . DOI:10.1038/s41562-021-01267-6
- James Urton. "DNA testing exposes tactics of international criminal networks trafficking elephant ivory" — , February 14, 2022
- Ashley Strickland. "Tracing DNA of related elephants reveals illegal ivory trafficking networks" — , February 14, 2022
- Sandy Ong. "Why do people buy elephant ivory?" — , 2018