Genetic assignment of large seizures of elephant ivory reveals Africa’s major poaching hotspots

Science  03 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6243, pp. 84-87
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa2457

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Focused on protecting a few

The illegal ivory trade threatens the persistence of stable wild elephant populations. The underground and covert nature of poaching makes it difficult to police. Wasser et al. used genetic tools to identify the origins of elephant tusks seized during transit (see the Perspective by Hoelzel). The majority of source animals were part of just a few wild elephant populations in Africa—and just two areas since 2006. Increased focus on enforcement in a few such areas could help interrupt poaching activities and restore wild elephant populations.

Science, this issue p. 84; see also p. 34


Poaching of elephants is now occurring at rates that threaten African populations with extinction. Identifying the number and location of Africa’s major poaching hotspots may assist efforts to end poaching and facilitate recovery of elephant populations. We genetically assign origin to 28 large ivory seizures (≥0.5 metric tons) made between 1996 and 2014, also testing assignment accuracy. Results suggest that the major poaching hotspots in Africa may be currently concentrated in as few as two areas. Increasing law enforcement in these two hotspots could help curtail future elephant losses across Africa and disrupt this organized transnational crime.

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