Sam Wasser, UW Biology Professor, and his team in the Center for Environmental Forensic Science were featured in UW News. In a paper coming out today in Nature Human Behaviour, Wasser’s group and officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security report that they have used genetic testing of ivory shipments seized by law enforcement to uncover the international criminal networks behind ivory trafficking out of Africa. The genetic connections across shipments that they’ve uncovered exposes an even higher degree of organization among ivory smuggling networks than previously known. The paper incorporates results from DNA testing of more than 4,000 African elephant tusks from 49 different ivory seizures made in 12 African nations over a 17-year period.
Exposing the connections among separate ivory seizures — made at African and Asian ports sometimes thousands of miles apart — will likely boost evidence against the criminals arrested for elephant poaching and ivory smuggling, and strengthen prosecutions of the responsible transnational criminal organizations, according to lead author Samuel Wasser, a UW professor of biology and director of the Center for Environmental Forensic Science, whose group developed the genetic tools behind this work.
“These methods are showing us that a handful of networks are behind a majority of smuggled ivory, and that the connections between these networks are deeper than even our previous research showed,” said Wasser.
Illegal ivory trade — along with habitat loss, climate change and other factors — has decimated the two elephant species in Africa. Although ivory seizures by authorities come from elephants that have already been slaughtered, the tusks can provide valuable information by illuminating the poaching, shipment activities and connectivity of traffickers.
Read the full article in UW News. Bonus: related article on the new Center for Environmental Forensic Science in UW News. Related articles in The Seattle Times, The New York Times, TRT World, FOX 13, Chemical & Engineering News, The World, VOA News, Reuters, AP News, National Geographic, The Conversation, and NPR