Research from the University of Utah has determined that poaching contributes to 90% of the illegal ivory trade on the African continent. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science published the study in September 2016, entitled “Radiocarbon dating of seized ivory confirms rapid decline in African elephant populations and provides insight in to illegal trade.” Cerling et al collected 231 specimens of Ivory from 2002-2014, seized by various African authorities. These were then tested through carbon dating and genetic analysis methods. The results showed that 90% of the ivory was traded from elephants that had died less than three years before the ivory was confiscated. One particular specimen of ivory revealed that an elephant had died just months before its confiscation. This signifies that there needs to be more focus on current poaching; despite ivory being made illegal in 1989, the research shows that elephants are still victims of the ivory trade.
In 1979 there were an estimated 1.3 million African elephants. By 1989, only 600,000 remained. Whilst experts ascribe this in part to habitat loss, poaching is also considered to be a primary factor.. To tackle these stark figures, in 1989 a worldwide ban on ivory was introduced by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). This ban did not include heirlooms or antiques bought prior to 1976. Whilst the law attempted to curb poachers from committing crimes, it became difficult to determine whether the black market traded ‘new’ or ‘old’ ivory. The use of carbon dating has proven to be a great tool when understanding the organisation of the well-developed and large networks of the illegal ivory trade and its demand. Today, only 352,271 are still alive in the 15 African countries. Could the use of carbon dating on seized ivory help to identify and discourage illegal poachers? Might this save some of the remaining endangered elephants?