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African carnage -- 1 year's seized ivory likely came from 23,000 elephants

international market, the trade is very hard to stop," Wasser said.

He and colleagues at the UW are working with other scientists and law enforcement agencies, primarily Interpol, to track the source of poached ivory. In June 2002 authorities in Singapore seized a 20-foot container packed with 6.5 tons of contraband ivory bound for the Far East from Malawi. It was the second-largest seizure of contraband ivory on record, the largest since the 1989 ban took effect, and represented ivory from 3,000 to 6,500 poached elephants. Authorities assumed the ivory had been collected from many different places, especially from forest elephants, but the assumption proved to be incorrect.

Over several years, Wasser and his colleagues have collected genetic information from a variety of populations by sampling tissue and dung from known populations, then compiled the information into a DNA-based map showing genetic differences between elephant populations. Using that information, the scientists grouped the tusks by common characteristics and then sampled randomly from those groups. They examined 67 tusks from the 532 seized in Singapore and showed that the ivory came from elephants on Africa's broad savannahs, not in forests. Further testing showed the ivory came from a small area of southern Africa, most likely centered on Zambia. Law enforcement agencies have identified many participants in the poaching, yet not one person has been prosecuted, Wasser said.

The tusks in the seized shipment weighed an average of 11 kilograms apiece, more than twice the weight normally seen in the market, indicating they came from a large number of older elephants. The shipment also contained 42,000 hankos, small blocks of solid ivory used to make signature stamps, or chops, that are widely used in the Far East, particularly in China and Japan.

Wasser noted that shortly before the seizure, Zambia had petitioned for permission to sell its ivory stockpiles
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Contact: Vince Stricherz
vinces@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
26-Feb-2007


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