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UW Researcher's Decades of DNA Detective Work Reveals Elephant Poaching Hotspots

UPDATED: University of Washington Biology Professor Samuel Wasser calls elephants and their poaching for ivory “the original blood diamonds.”

He’s been mapping the illegal destruction and devastating decline of the majestic animals for decades and has now identified two main hotspots from which a huge portion of poached ivory originates.

The Seattle-based researcher said two main areas in Africa are the sources of 85 percent of both forest and savanna elephant tusks that were seized by law enforcement during an eight-year period from 2006-2014.

The areas traced in mapping carried out by Wasser’s team in his lab at the University of Washington were central and eastern Africa.

For Forest Elephants:  the central African Tridom protected ecosystem that spans northeastern Gabon, northwestern Republic of Congo and southeastern Cameroon, and the adjacent reserve in southwestern Central African Republic.

For Savanna Elephants: East Africa, mainly from the Selous Game Reserve in southeastern Tanzania and the Niassa Reserve in adjacent northern Mozambique.

He says this is important because it provides a unique chance to shut down some of the carnage that is threatening to cause the extinction of some of the most intelligent mammals that walk the earth.

"There’s an estimated 50,000 elephants a year being killed by poaching and there’s only 470,000 left in Africa. So we’re losing close to a tenth of the population each year, due to poaching," Wasser said.

Wasser is calling on partners in all sectors of the global community to get together and find a way to shut down the illegal Ivory trade, before it’s too late.

"If we don’t stop the killing of these elephants, given that they are the largest land mammal and really keystone species in the environment, it is going to cause irreversible ecological damage," he said.

"One of the problems is that everybody has been focusing on the end user – stopping demand—which is extremely important, over the long term.   But it does not stop the killing. And if we don’t do that, we’re going to lose these elephants."

Find a link to the full study here

Listen to the full interview with Samuel Wasser below:

The full interview with Sam Wasser.

The findings are published in the Journal, Science. Co-authors are Celia Mailand and Samrat Mondol in UW biology; Lisa BrownCathy Laurie and Bruce Weir in UW biostatistics; and William Clark at INTERPOL.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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