Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Carbon dating confirms ivory poaching is alive and well in Africa

by Chuck Bednar

The overwhelming majority of ivory seized in recent years came from elephants that were killed by poachers less than three years prior to the attempted sale, according to new research published recently in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to Thure Cerling, a professor of geology, geophysics and biology at the University of Utah, and his colleagues, radiocarbon dating found that approximately 90% of the more than 230 elephant ivory specimens seized as part of 14 different operations from 2002 through 2014 came from animals that had died less than three years before the ivory was confiscated. “This indicates that the assumption of recent elephant death for mortality estimates of African elephants is correct: Very little “old” ivory is included in large ivory shipments from Africa,” the authors wrote. In fact, only one of the samples tested was found to be more than six years of age, based the results of Carbon-14 measurements conducted by Cerling and his fellow researchers.

The study shows that poaching is a continuing issue.

In most cases, between six and 35 months passed between when the elephants were killed and the confiscation of the ivory, with specimens from east Africa tending to make it into shipments more quickly, according to CBC reports. The study contradicts suggestions that the ivory being traded may not have come from new elephants, but from old stockpiles, the Los Angeles Times added, noting that the poaching industry appears to be “alive and well.”

“There’s been a staggering rate of elephant loss every year,” Cerling told the Times, adding that some elephant populations are declining significantly. Central African forest elephants, he noted, have experienced a reported 62% population reduction between 2002 and 2014, and the savanna elephant population at Tanzania’s Selous Wildlife Reserve has fallen by about two-thirds.

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