Scientists at the University of Washington working with Interpol, have devised a technology which uses DNA material from elephant ivory to analyse seized contraband and determine the origin of the elephant that owned the tusks.
A total of 1,350 reference samples were collected at 71 locations across 29 African countries while focusing on major ivory seizures made between 1996 and 2014.
Using this technique, the scientists have zeroed in on two hotspots of elephant poaching in Africa in Tanzania and neighbouring Mozambique and in the Tridom region of central Africa, extending to the north-east of Gabon, the north-west of the Republic of Congo and south-east Cameroon. Using the DNA technique, between 86% and 93% of savanna elephant ivory was traced back to southeastern Tanzania and northern Mozambique.
The new genetic evidence, it seems, is going to make the daunting task of stumping rampant poaching in Africa, all the easier because, apparently, the DNA material obtained from confiscated ivory, hair, elephant dung and tissue samples originates from a small pocket of known elephant habitats in Africa.
In other words, if the poaching hotspots are as few and concentrated as the data suggests, then it is possible, through international law, to focus on these areas to choke the flow of contraband ivory.
Despite an existing ban on ivory trading which has been in place since 1989, about 50,000 elephants are still getting killed every year to feed an illegal billion-dollar a-year ivory trade run by organised crime networks who are still shipping out as much as 500,000 KG of ivory annually out of Africa to east Asia where it fetches more than USD 2,000.00 a kilo.
Previous efforts to curb ivory trafficking have been focusing on reducing demand which is a slow process. The new DNA profiling technique will be faster because efforts can be concentrated in those pockets where most ivory is coming from, based on the established DNA profiles.