Between 1979 and 1989, the worldwide demand for ivory caused elephant populations to decline to dangerously low levels. During this time period, poachings fueled by ivory sales cut Africa’s elephant population in half. Since they were big targets and sported the largest tusks, savannah elephants took the worst hit. But as soon as these elephants began to vanish, hunters moved into the forests in search of the elephants’ smaller kin. In 1977, 1.3 million elephants lived in Africa; by 1997, only 600,000 remained. Elephant numbers have dropped by 62% over the last decade, and they could be mostly extinct by the end of the next decade. An estimated 100 African elephants are killed each day by poachers seeking ivory, meat and body parts, leaving only 400,000 remaining.
How do you crack the complicated empire of cartels that kill hundreds of thousands of elephants every year for their ivory? You put an international slew of gumshoe geneticists on their tail. These geneticists have uncovered Africa’s three largest ivory cartels — located in Mombasa, Kenya; Entebbe, Uganda; and Lomé, Togo — by analyzing the DNA within elephant tusks found in illegal trafficking shipments.The findings reveal that cartels frequently put the right and left tusks from the same elephant in different shipments. By linking these tusks, scientists have discovered that these cartels sometimes work together, and the finding reveals the interconnectedness of Africa’s largest ivory-smuggling cartels, the researchers reported in a new study.
DNA analysis is not the only technology being used in the war against poaching although it has proved efficient in tracking down the major players in the game. Some of the other ways technology is being used to crack the whip on this illegal trade include; Acoustic traps, using networks of recycled cell phones outfitted with solar panels and antennas that act as sensors, Thermal imaging, to deal with the challenge of patrolling vast, harsh, and remote landscapes, Advanced analytics and mapping, The Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT) project, funded through Google Ideas, tracked broadcast, print, and web media from across the globe for three months to map wildlife crime. The result is an interactive map that allows users to explore media on rhino poaching in South Africa, elk poaching in Canada, wildlife trafficking in Croatia, and overfishing in Brazil. Drones, have been used to ward off elephants from destroying crops because of their bee-like buzzing noise, but they’re also being used to help the same animals from being hunted for their ivory in Africa.