Conservationists have discovered that DNA testing may help stop animal poachers from inducing the extinction of numerous species.

A new study investigated the patterns by which the ivory tusks of elephants in Africa are being smuggled all over the world, in order for researchers to uncover the factors associated with poaching. This new technique may identify the most common areas where elephants are being illegally acquired and may lead to developing actions that can help to preserve its population.

The study conducted by Samuel Wasser, conservation biologist from the University of Washington, Seattle and colleagues examined DNA samples from 28 large seizures of African ivory, weighing more than 0.5 tons each. These study subjects were obtained from police and authorities from the customs department, who seized the materials in Asia and Africa from 1996 to 2014.

"We are talking about the majority of ivory being moved around the world," said Wasser. "It is really staggering, the extent."

The research team then studied the ivory samples opposite a large database containing the DNA information of African elephants. This database took 15 years to complete and the samples used to create these were acquired in various methods, such as using trained dogs and accepting contributions from other researchers. Wasser and the team analyzed the microsatellites, which are tiny components of the samples. They found characteristic models for each nature reserve proximal to one another, reported Science.

Further into the investigation, the researchers found that almost all of the shipments containing the ivory tusk came from two places, which are the grassland in southeast Tanzania and northern Mozambique and parts of the forest in Gabon, Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. These study results may mean that the poaching of elephants mostly happens in these two locations. Strengthening security measures in these places may help prevent future elephant extinction.

The U.S. government has expressed support for the eradication of elephant poaching by mounting an event that involved the destruction of one ton of ivory in New York's Times Square this week.

Ivory is utilized all over the world as traditional medication, decoration and souvenir. In 1989, the trade of ivory in the international market was prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). However, groups continue to engage in illegal trading.

Photo: Diana Robinson | Flickr

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