By Sydney Brownstone
Some 62% of African elephants have disappeared from the continent over the last decade. The reason? In central African forests, “elephants are being poached out of existence for their ivory,” wrote the two scientists in the New York Times.
On July 1, the U.S. government took a step toward addressing the problem when President Obama announced a $10 million initiative to combat wildlife trafficking networks between the United States and Africa. But on the same day, researchers also published a study showing that a new application of an old technology could help identify which pieces of ivory are actually illegal—and it’s based, of all things, on above-ground nuclear testing that left radioactive material hanging out in the air for the next several generations to come.
“There’s a whole community of scientists that has made lemonade from lemons out of this,” Kevin Uno, one of the researchers who developed the poaching identification tool told me when I asked him how nuclear testing more than 50 years ago can help determine if a piece of ivory was poached.
It begins with the story of the arms race. After World War II, governments developing nuclear arsenals detonated hundreds of nuclear blasts above ground. And while alarming spikes in radiation registered on monitors at the time, little did those researchers know that they were drastically changing the amount of radioactive carbon in the atmosphere for decades--and that plants, oceans, and even elephants would be the ones to absorb the fallout. More....