How DNA Could Help Catch Elephant Poachers


Every year criminals around the world trade billions of dollars in products derived from wildlife. The elephant trade in particular has rankled government officials around the world with tens of thousands of the large mammals killed in Africa every year—a conservation threat, given the dwindling numbers of elephants in the wild.

Now, scientists say that they may be able to use DNA from government seizes of illegal ivory tusks to trace elephants’ origins, a potentially groundbreaking method for law enforcement. Large-scale poaching, which accounts for more than 70% of the ivory trade, may be confined to just two areas, according to an analysis of the DNA tests published in the journal Science.

“By being able to say that these came from just a couple of areas means that we can target those areas much more efficiently with law enforcement,” said study author Sam Wasser, on a conference call for journalists.

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