Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Ivory Poaching Networks, Revealed

Researchers and law enforcement have used genetic analyses to expose networks used by ivory traffickers, CNN reports.

The University of Washington's Samuel Wasser and his colleagues analyzed tusks from 4,320 savannah and forest elephants that were seized between 2002 and 2019 in 49 different incidents. He and his colleagues previously developed a genetic map of African elephants by collecting and analyzing their feces, which they then could use to determine the elephant population from which an ivory tusk originated. They also combined this approach with the observation that tusks from the same elephant sometimes wound up in different shipments, which they then used to identify ports out of which the poachers worked.

In their new analysis appearing in Nature Human Behavior, Wasser and his colleagues expanded that genetic analysis to examine familial relationships between the animals from which the tusks came. This, they say, further elucidates the poachers' networks and could help bolster criminal charges. "It was astounding, what we found," Wasser said in a briefing, according to ABC News. "Literally, we had dozens of shipments that were simply connected by multiple familial matches."

ABC News notes that the African savannah elephant is endangered and the African forest elephant is critically endangered.