Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Can math and PCR save the elephants?

Ivory trade from elephant tusks is still going on despite its ban in 1989. Last year it is estimated that 3,000 elephants were killed. Between August 2005 and August 2006, 23,461 kg of ivory has been seized but the identification of poachers is difficult, partly because there is no way of telling where the ivory is coming from in Africa...until now!

In order to adress this issue and provide a better monitoring, Samuel Wasser and its team have demonstrated that DNA extracted from elephant tusks allows to determine if the elephant is from the savannah or the forest. These studies are based on microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA (Wasser et al., 2004, PNAS, 101: 14847-14852). In order to further identify the region where the elephants were killed, this same team designed a genetic and probalistic approach based Voronoi tesselation (Wasser et al. 2007, PNAS, 104: 4228-4233). These analysis allowed to identify a common region in Africa: most likely Zambia. Now, let's hope that Zambia will be monitored more closely and that the poachers, that decimated between 50 and 90% of the elephant population will be caught...

Another way to put a stop to elephant killing does not involve genetics or statistics knowledge...STOP BUYING IVORY!!!!