According to a new study, only three major criminal groups are responsible for smuggling most of the ivory tusks from Africa.
Researchers used analysis of seized DNA Elephant fangs Evidence such as phone records, license plates, financial records, and shipping documents can also map trafficking activity across the continent to better understand who is behind the crime. The study It was published in the journal Nature Human Behavior on Monday.
“When you have Genetic analysis And other data, you can finally start understanding the illegal supply chain-it’s the absolute key to countering these networks, “said Louise Shelley, who is studying. Illegal transactions He was not involved in the research at George Mason University.
Conservation biologist Samuel Wasser, co-author of the study, said the findings target law enforcement officers as leaders in these networks, rather than low-level poachers who are easily replaced by criminal organizations. Hope to help you.
“If you can stop trading ivory Integrated and exported abroad, they are really major players, “said Wasser, co-director of the Center for Environmental Forensics at the University of Washington.
African elephant populations are declining rapidly.From about 5 million elephant A century ago, in 1979, there were 1.3 million elephants, but the total number of elephants in Africa is now around. 415,000..
1989 Ban International commercial ivory trade has not stopped declining.An estimated 1.1 million pounds (500 metric tons) of poached elephants each year fang It is shipped from Africa, mainly to Asia.
For the past 20 years, Wasser has been sticking to some important questions. “Where is the majority of poached ivory, who drives it, and how many are they?”
He works with wildlife authorities such as Kenya, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia to contact him after intercepting ivory shipments. He flies to the country to take a small sample of fangs to analyze the DNA. He has now collected samples from the fangs of more than 4,300 elephants trafficked from Africa from 1995 to today.
“This is an amazing and remarkable dataset,” said Robert Pringle, a biologist at Princeton University who was not involved in the study. Using such data, he said, “it will be possible to identify connections and make powerful inferences.”
In 2004, Wasser demonstrated that DNA from elephant fangs and dung could be used to locate his home within hundreds of miles. In 2018, he realized that finding the same DNA in tusks from two different ivory attacks meant they were harvested from the same animal and probably trafficked by the same poaching network. Did.
New research extends that approach to identify DNA belonging to elephant parents and offspring, and siblings, leading to the discovery that there are very few criminal groups behind most of Africa’s ivory trade.
Researchers have found that the fangs of close relatives are at the same time or the same operator, because female elephants stay in the same family group for the rest of their lives, and most males do not move too far from the family herd.
Such genetic links can provide blueprints to wildlife authorities seeking other evidence – cell phone records, License plateShipping Documents and Financial Statements – Links to various ivory shipments.
Previously, when the ivory transport was intercepted, a single seizure failed to identify the organization behind the crime, a special agent of the National Security Investigation Bureau, who has been working on environmental crime for 25 years. John Brown III said.
However, the research of scientists identifying DNA links can “warn us of the relationships between individual attacks,” said co-author Brown. “this group work Indeed, it is the backbone of several ongoing multinational censuses. “
They identified several poaching hotspots, including the regions of Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana, Gabon and the Republic of the Congo. Fangs are often moved to warehouses elsewhere, combined with other smuggled goods in shipping containers, and then moved to ports. The current trafficking hub is in Kampala, Uganda. Mombasa, Kenya; and Lome, Togo.
Recently two suspects arrested As a result of such an investigation, Wasser said.
Researchers have found that smugglers who smuggle ivory often move other smuggled goods as well. For example, a quarter of large-scale bouts of scales are poached anteater-like animals, mixed with ivory.
“Confronting these networks is a good example of how genetics can be used for conservation purposes,” said Brian Arnold, an evolutionary biologist at Princeton University who was not involved in the study.
Samuel Wasser, an elephant genotype, reveals the size and connectivity of cross-border ivory traffickers. Natural human behavior (2022). DOI: 10.1038 / s41562-021-01267-6.. www.nature.com/articles/s41562-021-01267-6
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Ivory DNA analysis reveals trafficking network
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