The illegal trade in elephant ivory is booming. African elephants are being slaughtered at rates exceeding the former peak in the late 1980s, before Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES (pronounced SITE-ees), banned all trade in elephant products. The ban–as well as a worldwide public oucry against the slaughter–helped to stabilize the wild population of elephants. But within the last decade, highly organized international criminal rings have begun killing elephants like never before. The latest figures indicate that 38,000 elephants a year are falling to the poachers’ guns.
Last year, Samuel Wasser and Cathy Laurie of the University of Washington along with Bill Clark of Interpol described in Scientific American their efforts to use DNA analysis to trace ivory seizures back to the wild populations of elephants from which they were taken. They found that some of the largest seizures in recent years all came from the same population of wild elephants in Tanzania.