By Jeremy Hance
Forensic-dating could end a major loophole in the current global ban on ivory, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Scientists have developed a method to determine the age of ivory, allowing traders to tell the difference between ivory taken before the ban in 1989, which is still legal, and recently-poached ivory. Elephants across Africa are being slaughtered in record numbers for their tusks—the most recent estimate put it at 3,000 annually—due to rising demand for ivory in East Asia. Various loopholes have exacerbated the crisis.
"Our dating method is affordable for government and law enforcement agencies and can help tackle the poaching and illegal trade crises," says lead author, Kevin Uno, with Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
Uno and his team measured radiocarbon levels in two different elephant tusks using an accelerator mass spectrometer. They then combined their findings with growth rates for modern elephant teeth to come up with the age of the ivory. Importantly, the methods could also be used to age rhino horns. Rhinos are also being decimated in Africa and Asia for the Asian traditional medicine market, despite the fact that research show rhino horn has no medicinal value.
The new method can be combined with another forensic test that allows officials to track the ivory to its source region. This was developed by Sam Wasser with the University of Washington's Center for Conservation Biology in 2004. More....