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The Ivory Source

Based on DNA analysis, Samuel Wasser from the University of Washington can determine to within a few hundred kilometers from where an ivory sample originated and give such intelligence to anti-poaching efforts, the New York Times reports.

Wasser and his lab first gathered DNA from elephant feces to create a genetic map of elephants in Africa. They then showed that they could isolate DNA from seized ivory tusks, which they then compare it to the elephant map to determine where that ivory was from.

"I can take a tusk from anywhere in Africa and trace its origins to within 300 kilometers of where that elephant was killed, often to the very park or reserve," Wasser tells the Times.

Poaching, he adds, occurs all over Africa, with hotspots in Tanzania, Gabon, the Congo, and Zambia, and it's highly organized. "From what we've learned, organized bands of poachers appear to kill over and over again at the same sites," he says, adding that this is "actionable intelligence."

"If you know that contraband ivory comes from one pinpointed site, it tells you where the next poaching event will be. Sometimes you can stop it by sending in armed rangers," Wasser says. "However, the poachers are often better armed."