Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Carbon from nuclear tests could help fight poachers

By Melissa HogenboomScience reporter, BBC News

The atmospheric carbon left over from nuclear bomb testing could help scientists track poached ivory, new research has found.

These bomb tests changed the level of carbon in the atmosphere, which can be traced to date elephant tusks.

Trafficking poached ivory is increasingly being used to fund civil wars, groups warn.

Scientists say the findings, published in PNAS, could make it easier to enforce the ivory ban.

The number of elephants being poached is now at the highest it has been for two decades, according to a UN backed report.

This was highlighted in January when a family of 11 elephants was slaughtered in Kenya, their tusks hacked off with machetes.

Traditional radiocarbon dating determines the age of ancient objects by measuring the amount of carbon-14 (C14)

The approximate time since an organism died can be measured from the amount of C14 left in its remains
But remains from after the Cold War contain higher levels of C14 due to the nuclear bombs
In a new study Dr Uno and colleagues used this increase in carbon to date herbivore samples, which they matched to corresponding points on the bomb-curve

In the 1980s, more than half of Africa's elephants are thought to have been wiped out by poachers. This led to an international ban on trading ivory in 1989. As public awareness of the threat of extinction increased, the global demand for ivory dwindled.

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