Sav­ing Dumbo with dung and dogs

Action Asia - - NEWS & VIEWS -

WITH THE HELP OF dogs and dung, sci­en­tist Sa­muel K. Wasser is map­ping out the geo­graphic ori­gin of herds of African ele­phants, help­ing him iden­tify po­ten­tial poach­ing hotspots. The con­ser­va­tion bi­ol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton has trained dogs to sniff out ele­phant fae­ces over a wide area. This tech­nique has pre­vi­ously helped re­searchers mon­i­tor the health of other threat­ened species in­clud­ing north­ern spot­ted owls and griz­zly bears, with­out the need to ac­tu­ally spot them. He then cross-ref­er­ences DNA ex­tracted from ele­phant dung to DNA ex­tracted from the base of the tusks to pin­point the an­i­mals’ ori­gins. To­day, he and his team have placed species up to 300 kilo­me­tres from their birth­place and have so far iden­ti­fied Mom­basa in Kenya, En­tebbe in Uganda and Togo in West Africa as ma­jor poach­ing hotspots. His work was hugely cred­ited in the 2016 ar rest of ivor y traf f ick­ing kingpin, Feisal Mo­hamed Ali. Sadly, he was ac­quit­ted last Au­gust by Mom­basa High Court based on what was de­scribed in the The Eastafrican news­pa­per as an, “un­con­sti­tu­tional rul­ing”. Of­ten funded by multi­na­tional car­tels, the il­le­gal ivory trade con­nects im­pov­er­ished poach­ers to mid­dle men who move the ivory to ports, where tusks are con­sol­i­dated and shipped off to buy­ers. Prior to Wasser’s re­search, traf­fick­ers faced mi­nor sen­tences for sin­gle seizures. Es­tab­lish­ing con­nec­tions be­tween ship­ments can link traf­fick­ers to or­gan­ised crime which can re­sult in them get­ting heav­ier sen­tences. Though the in­ter­na­tional ivory trade has been out­lawed since 1989, il­le­gal traf­fick­ing con­tin­ues. Ac­cord­ing to WWF, nearly 90% of African ele­phants have been wiped out in the past decade and around 20,000 are killed an­nu­ally to­day. Fig­ures from 2016 es­ti­mate the pop­u­la­tion at around 415,000.

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