Gene test to track ivory poachers

Copyright: Scotch Macaskill

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Conservation biologists have developed a genetic test that will allow the geographical origin of ivory poached from Africa’s threatened elephant populations to be identified. Using DNA from elephant droppings and skin samples, the researchers compared the genetic profiles of the species in 16 African countries. This allowed them to create a ‘genetic map’ showing how elephants vary across the continent.

In tests, the genetic tool is accurate to within 600 miles in 80 per cent of cases. The researchers, who published their finding in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences say their technique could help determine whether government stockpiles of ivory are being illegally traded and replenished.

Africa’s elephant population dropped from 1.3 million in 1979 to just 500,000 in 1987. Although ivory trading was banned by international agreement in 1989, poaching and illegal trade have continued, with some of the largest ever seizures of ivory being made since 2002.  

Link to full BBC Online news story