News / Science & Technology

    Forensic Testing of Ivory Could Combat Elephant Poaching

    A steamroller is used to crush seized elephant tusks during a ceremony at the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Quezon city, northeast of Manila, Philippines, June 21, 2013.
    A steamroller is used to crush seized elephant tusks during a ceremony at the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Quezon city, northeast of Manila, Philippines, June 21, 2013.
    Megan McGrath
    The sweeping grasslands of the African savannah might not exist without elephants. They knock down so many trees that forests transform into plains, where other grazers and birds feed.  Elephants maintain the shape of the land, and without them, everything would change.  And for many, that would make the world a poorer place.

    “There’s some connection between humans and elephants that would be a really sad thing to lose,” says Kevin Uno of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.

    Forensic Testing of Ivory Could Combat Elephant Poaching
    Forensic Testing of Ivory Could Combat Elephant Poachingi
    || 0:00:00
    ...    
     
    X

    Uno warns that elephant extinction is a possibility this century, as poaching of African elephants is at an all-time high.  There are only about 400,000 left in the wild, and 30,000 are killed each year for their tusks.  “In a span of 15 to 20 years, we could lose our elephants,” the researcher said.

    Elephant ivory is highly sought-after as a carving material, especially in China and Japan.  Trade in ivory was made illegal in 1989 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  Ivory that was harvested before the ban, however, is still legal to buy and sell.  This is a perplexing issue for anti-poaching efforts: how to tell the old, legal ivory from the new, illegal ivory?

    An international team of scientists, including Dr. Uno, determined that the answer can be found with a test measuring the level of radioactive carbon in a piece of ivory.

    Atmospheric radiocarbon has been at an especially high level since nuclear weapons testing by the United States and Soviet Union in the 1950s.  The radioactive element has been degrading ever since.  By matching the amount of radiocarbon in a tusk with the amount in the atmosphere at a given time, the researchers can tell when the tusk grew - and when the elephant was killed.

    The team's findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  The researchers say they hope the test will allow investigators to distinguish legally-sold ivory from before the trade ban, from illegal ivory that was poached more recently.  This will presumably enable more effective enforcement of the ban on ivory trading, and disruption of poaching.

    The technique can also be used to date horns and tusks from other animals, including rhinoceroses, which are at even worse risk of extinction due to poaching.

    Kevin Uno says that enforcing the trade ban is only part of the battle to save elephants.  The ivory trade is completely driven by the demand for ivory, and he advocates efforts to educate buyers about the consequences of their actions.

    “What we need to send,” said Uno, “is a very clear message that when you buy something that’s made of ivory, there’s an elephant that died for that.”

    The Obama administration has announced an executive order to combat the illegal sale of endangered animals in Africa.  The order provides $10 million to benefit anti-poaching efforts throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

    You May Like

    Candidates' Comments Fly Like New Hampshire Snowflakes

    Four days ahead of the country's first-in-the-nation Republican and Democratic party primary elections, surveys show the parties' contests tightening

    South Korea Says North Korea Moving Closer to Rocket Launch

    Pyongyang had notified International Maritime Organization and ITU of plan to launch 'Earth observation satellite' between Feb. 8 and Feb. 25, but has now changed the dates

    Australian Commander: IS Changing Tactics

    Head of Australian forces in Middle East talks with VOA about training Iraqi troops, countering evolving Islamic State efforts and defeating extremism

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.