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 user 2007-02-27 at 12:00:00 pm Views: 49
  • #17757

    DNA tracks origin of seized ivory
    trail of DNA has helped investigators trace the biggest ever
    consignment of contraband ivory seized since 1989 to savannah elephants
    in Zambia.

    extracted DNA from 37 tusks recovered from the shipment, which was
    seized in Singapore in June 2002.They compared this data against a
    continent-wide map showing genetic differences and similarities between
    African elephants.

    Details appear in Proceedings of the National
    Academy of Sciences journal.The 2002 seizure in Singapore consisted of
    532 tusks packed in a 20ft container that had been shipped to the Far
    East from Malawi in south-east Africa.It also contained 42,000 hankos,
    small blocks of solid ivory used to make signature stamps, or chops,
    that are popular in China and Japan.

    ‘Majestic animals’
    Singapore haul was the second largest cache of captured illegal ivory
    on record, the biggest since the 1989 ban, and represented ivory from
    3,000 to 6,500 elephants.But this represented just a snapshot of a
    potentially devastating threat to Africa’s wild elephant population,
    said Dr Samuel Wasser, the study’s lead author.”Elephants are majestic
    animals and are not trivial to the ecosystem,” said Dr Wasser, from the
    Center for Conservation Biology in Seattle, Washington.”They are a
    keystone species and taking them out significantly alters the
    habitat.”Authorities assumed that the ivory had been collected from
    many different parts of Africa, and especially from forest
    elephants.But analysis of DNA taken from the tusks showed this was not
    the case.The researchers compared genetic sequences from the tusks with
    those in a database of DNA sequences from African elephants whose
    geographic origin was known.The results showed that the ivory came from
    savannah elephants in a small region of southern Africa, with Zambia as
    the focal point.The tusks weighed an average of 11kg each, more than
    twice the weight normally seen in the market, indicating that they came
    from older elephants.China’s rapidly expanding economy is thought to be
    a major force driving the black market ivory trade. In 1989, a kilogram
    of high quality ivory sold for US$100 (£51).The price rose to US$200
    (£102) in 2004, but by last year had soared to US$750 (£382).The
    African elephant population plummeted by 60%, from 1.3 million to just
    500,000 between 1979 and 1987, largely because of ivory poachers.It is
    estimated that more than 23,000 elephants were killed to produce the
    contraband ivory uncovered in 12 separate seizures in the year August