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Scientists Use Forensic Techniques To Track Poached Ivory

Wikimedia Commons

New research out of the University of Utah today examines how long it takes poached elephant tusks to reach the illegal ivory market. Researchers used a technique known as bomb-curve radiocarbon dating to age the tusks.

“Most of the ivory was fairly young, in other words from the date of poaching to the date it ended up on the black market was anywhere from 6 months to three years, so it was moving to market pretty quickly,” says Lesley Chesson, president of IsoForensics, a research company in Salt Lake City, Utah.

That’s bad news for elephants. The largest land mammal alive today, African Elephants are intelligent animals that travel enormous distances in family groups, dispersing seeds and literally creating habitats for a host of other species as they go. They are also being poached at a rate of up to 100 elephants per day or about 8% of the world’s elephant population each year.


Credit Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, Hong Kong
Seizure of illegal ivory in Hong Kong, August 2013.

“We are not finding legacy ivory. This killing is going on now. And if there’s going to be elephants in the next generation, we’ve got to stop the killing now,” said one of the study’s coauthors - geochemist and biologist Thure Cerling

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and more information can be found in a science brief from the University of Utah.