US Scientists are DNA Testing Seized Ivory

By Nina Rygh, Asia Reporter

The elephant tusks were grouped according to their characteristics. PHOTO: AVA

The agri-food and veterinary authority (AVA) is working with US scientist to track down the source of about 3,500 kg of illegal ivory confiscated earlier this year.

The shipment is worth an estimated $2.5 million and was seized in Singapore on route from Nigeria to Vietnam. The shipment was stated to contain groundnuts but instead contained 1,787 pieces of elephant ivory.

Singapore has long been identified by environmental groups monitoring the illegal wildlife trade as a transshipment hub through which exotic animals and their parts often come through and spread to legal markets.

As part of an ongoing United States – Singapore collaboration to combat wildlife trafficking, DNA samples are being used to determine the location of the poached elephants. The DNA analysis can pinpoint the location of the poached elephant as well as reveal potential linkages with other seizures overseas.

Dr. Wasser, a conservation biologist, who pioneered the extraction of DNA from ivory tusk in 1998 is a part of the investigation.

“The ivory we are sampling now was seized a month and a half ago. That’s the shortest time we’ve ever had between the seizure (being) made and us getting to sample it,” said Dr. Wasser. “By getting the information quick, we can have a greater effect in enforcement.”

Countries may not release ivory seized to his team until the legal cases surrounding the ivory’s seizure are closed which can be years after the initial acquisition. However, if brought in earlier, his team can help enforcement agencies to build a better case and help defend these animals against future attacks.