A recent study that appears in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that most ivory seized comes from elephants that were killed less than 3 years prior thus debunking the idea that most ivory in circulation is recycled from built up stockpiles.
“It shows that ivory is moving through the system fast. Some of the elephants were killed just before their tusks were thrown in the shipping container. That has huge implications for our estimates of the number of elephants being taken.” – Kevin Uno, study co-author, geochemist at Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
“It’s long been widely assumed that a lot of it was leaking from stockpiles,” said Elizabeth Bennett, vice president for species conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society. “This shows that’s not true, and that’s very encouraging.” The finding has “huge implications” for policy and enforcement, she said. “It says that if we can stop the poaching, we can dry up the ivory pouring out of Africa,” she said.
The researchers analyzed the ages of 231 tusks from large seizures made in nine nations from 2002 to 2014. In order to tell when the elephants died, they measured small amounts of the radioactive isotope carbon-14 left over from open-air nuclear-bomb tests in the 1950s and 1960s. The isotope ended up in plants that the animals ingested and used to build new ivory; the amount found in the most recently formed tissues provided a time stamp marking time of death. What it showed is that more than 90 percent of the specimens had come from elephants killed less than three years before the ivory was confiscated; many probably within only several months.