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DNA Samples of Related Elephants Reveals Illegal Ivory Trafficking Networks

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The elephant population is encountering illegal poaching for their ivory for many decades. The trade of elephant products, however, is conducted under strict legal regulations to prevent elephant population declines.

Recently ivory shipments receive DNA testing. This genetic analysis has traced the international criminals who were shipping the ivory from Africa. According to recent research published Monday in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, at least three major illegal gangs are smuggling elephants’ ivory tusks out of Africa.

The research team includes scientists and US Department of Homeland Security special agents. The investigation team tested the DNA of over 4,000 elephant tusks from 49 different seizures, made between 2002 and 2019, across 12 different African countries. This DNA testing will help to expose the strategies used by global criminal organizations. According to the findings, The illegal organizations were surviving for decades and are hunting elephants for ivory.

A previous study has identified that tusks from the same elephant were primarily separated and then trafficked in different shipments before being seized. These clues spotted the smuggling networks at three African port cities in Kenya, Uganda, and Togo. The DNA analysis traces the elephants that were related to each other like parents, siblings, and offspring. These connections between families of elephants, helped the researchers to track the trafficking network.

The professor of biology and co-executive director of the Center for Environmental Forensic Science, Samuel Wasser, at the University of Washington stated,
"If you're trying to match one tusk to its pair, you have a low chance of a match. But identifying close relatives is going to be a much more common event, and can link more ivory seizures to the same smuggling networks,"

The result of these DNA testing will help to find out the illegal trafficking and poaching of ivory. This continuous analysis of forensic DNA technology can accurately analyze a smaller amount of DNA. This identification will detect ivory casework samples in wildlife forensic laboratories, and ultimately help to trace the ivory poaching hubs.