By Michael Risinit
Radioactive leftovers from Eisenhower-era bomb tests could help save the African elephant from extinction, thanks to a Rockland scientist and his colleagues.
A team led by a researcher now at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Rockland County has developed a forensic technique they say will cut down on elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade. The method determines a tusk’s age, revealing if it was acquired before or after a 1989 ban on trade in African elephant ivory.
The study was published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“A lot of the trade regulations depend on the year or the age of that tissue,” said Kevin Uno, a paleoecologist at Lamont. “So we can date a tusk now and say, well, this has been traded illegally because of the age of the ivory or the date at which the elephant died.”
The method analyzes how much radiocarbon, a weakly radioactive byproduct of nuclear weapons testing, is in a tusk. That is then compared to known amounts in the atmosphere over time, allowing scientists to figure out when the tusk was collected.
Poachers last year killed some 35,000 African elephants for their tusks, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, the parent organization of the Bronx Zoo. Such slaughter is the product of few protections for elephants, inadequate attempts to stop ivory trafficking and high demand for ivory in China and elsewhere, experts say. More....