Thousands of Elephants Killed
Thousands of Elephants Killed - U.S. Research
by Paul Redfern
Nairobi — Tens of thousands of elephants on the Tanzania-Mozambique border have been killed for their ivory tusks in the past five years, says new scientific research which has been able to trace the origin of ivory sales now booming again in East Asia.
The DNA research by the US-based Center for Conservation Biology uses two methods to track where elephant tusks are being smuggled from.
Firstly they test the tusks seized from smugglers which is ground up and its DNA carefully extracted.
Then samples of elephant dung are collected from a variety of sources across Africa. Each mound of dung contains plentiful amounts of DNA from cells.
A match can then be made and the results are startling.
They show that for the period studied in 2006 that virtually all the recent seizures of tusks can be traced to animals that had grazed in the Selous and Niassa game reserves on the Tanzania and Mozambique borders.
The discovery suggests that only a handful of cartels are responsible for most of the world's booming trade in illegal ivory and for the annual slaughter of tens of thousands of elephants.
The tusks seized come from separate raids on docks in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan.
So far more than 11 tonnes of tusks were found in containers in raids on Taiwan and Hong Kong docks in July and August 2006.
About 1,500 tusks were discovered and all were traced to elephants from the Selous game reserve, a Unesco heritage site in Tanzania, and the nearby Niassa game reserve in Mozambique.
These were aimed at satisfying the Far East's growing appetite for ivory, a new status symbol for the middle classes of the region's swelling industrialised economies.
The UK-based Observer newspaper says that the result of rising demand has meant ivory prices have soared from $200 a kilogramme in 2004 to more than $6,000.
The result has also been a surge in ivory poaching with scientists estimating that between 8 per cent and 10 per cent of Africa's elephants are now being slaughtered each year to meet demand.
"The vast majority of poaching is being carried out by a few big organisations that are targeting one area and then hammering its elephants. It is grim, but it also suggests we can target our anti-poaching efforts very specifically by focusing efforts on these regions," said Professor Sam Wasser, director of the University of Washington's Centre for Conservation Biology, where the DNA elephant map was developed.
Source: The East African