DNA Tracking to Fight Ivory Trade ; Tests on Tusks Will Pinpoint Poachers' Culling Grounds

By Bloomfield, Steve | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), March 11, 2007 | Go to article overview
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DNA Tracking to Fight Ivory Trade ; Tests on Tusks Will Pinpoint Poachers' Culling Grounds


Bloomfield, Steve, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


A scientific breakthrough has been heralded as a potential saviour for tens of thousands of elephants hunted for their ivory. Researchers have devised a genetic map of Africa's elephants which - for the first time -has enabled investigators to pinpoint the exact region where a shipment of ivory originated.

The advance could not be more timely. Eighteen years after the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) brought in a global ban on the sale of ivory, the illegal trade has reached the highest levels ever reported.

The price of a kilogram of ivory was $100 in 1989, when the ban was introduced. In the following few years it fell to as low as $10. But by this year the price rocketed to $850 ([pound]440) making the largest tusks worth thousands of dollars. For some crime syndicates, ivory has become more lucrative - and easier to move - than illegal drugs. At least 23,000 elephants were killed for their tusks last year.

"These are urgent problems," said Dr Samuel Wasser, the director of the University of Washington's Centre for Conservation Biology, where the DNA methods have been pioneered. "Poaching is the worst it has been in history. There is an enormous market for ivory in the Far East. There is an insatiable demand."

The greatest difficulty for the scientists was working out how to extract the DNA.

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