By Lindsay Whitehurst
A new test based on environmental changes unleashed by atomic bomb tests could help save some of the 30,000 elephants slaughtered every year for their tusks.
Developed by University of Utah scientists, the test uses carbon dating to determine whether a particular piece of ivory is a legal antique or the product of modern poaching.
With new accelerator mass spectrometry, the test can glean results from much smaller ivory samples and is affordable for law enforcement at $500, according to a U. news release.
"We hope it will spur governments like our own to invest money into really trying to work on the poaching problem from all ends: buyer, seller, shipper," said geochemist Thure Cerling, the senior author of a study published online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Cerling and his fellow researchers tested the method’s accuracy on 29 tissue samples from animals and plants killed between 1905 and 2008. The samples included 1962 grasses from Kenya, tusks from hippos and elephants, monkey hair, oryx horn and canine teeth.
The test measures the amount of carbon-14, an isotope created as neutrons from open air nuclear tests done between 1952 and 1962 bombarded nitrogen in the atmosphere. Carbon-14 entered the food chain and was absorbed by plants and animals. Though the levels peaked in the 1960s, the isotope is still measurable in elephants’ tusks. It can tell scientists when the animal died, disproving smugglers’ claims that ivory is from an animal killed before international bans on the trade were in place by 1989. More....