WASHINGTON – A DNA analysis of elephant tusks seized from poachers has revealed two main hotspots for the crime in Africa, a finding that could point law enforcement in the direction of the top criminal networks, a study showed.
The examination involved taking genetic samples from large seizures of ivory and matching them against DNA samples of elephant dung to determine where the animals came from. It showed most elephants killed on a wide scale lived in southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique in East Africa or in a Central Africa region spanning parts of Gabon, Cameroon and the Republic of Congo. The research, published by the Science journal on Thursday, was led by University of Washington biologist Samuel Wasser.
The study has “implications for law enforcement efforts aimed at tackling transnational organized trade in ivory and the increasing poaching of elephants,” according to the report.
As many as 40,000 African elephants were lost to poaching in 2011, a major factor in the illegal wildlife trade that has become the world’s fourth-largest transnational organized crime, according to the study. The wildlife trafficking market is worth an estimated $8 billion to $10 billion a year.
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, the chairwoman of the House appropriations foreign operations committee, said in an interview on Thursday she views the study’s DNA-based research findings as a potential key new tool against wildlife trafficking that may be worthy of a congressional hearing.
Granger, in her committee’s report on the 2016 defense bill, was able to include broad language that expressed concern that poached ivory “can be used as a source of funding by terrorist organizations, extremist militias and transnational organized crime syndicates in central and eastern Africa.”
“If you can say, we found the Ivory in China but we know it came from South Africa and Kenya, then that’s a whole different situation. Then you start getting convictions,” said Granger, a Texas Republican, in Washington.
The research was supported by the U.S. State Department’s bureau for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Bank.