Scottish scientists are using DNA techniques to help fight the illegal poaching of African elephants for their ivory.
Bone and tissue fragments from elephant carcases killed by poachers will be recovered and forensic DNA techniques used to produce unique profiles for subsequent matching against blood-stained clothing or ivory recovered locally or in Asia.
Gabonese president Ali Bongo Ondimba will launch the initiative today at the UK Government’s illegal wildlife trade conference.
Senior government representatives from more than 50 countries will be in attendance with the aim of improving multi-lateral agreements to combat the illegal ivory trade.
Statistics show 96 elephants were killed every day in 2012, and in 2013 large-scale ivory movements were 20% higher than the previous peak in 2011.
The ambitious project, funded by the European Union, is a collaboration between the National Parks Agency of Gabon and UK genetic and forensic expertise from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and TRACE Wildlife Forensic Network.
Rob Ogden, director of conservation science for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), said: “We routinely use wildlife genetic analysis to provide information for conservation management, but the same DNA tools and data can be transferred into forensic investigations to support wildlife law enforcement.
“RZSS is extremely happy to be involved in this project, which bridges the gap between conservation genetics and wildlife DNA forensics, enabling the Gabon authorities to understand elephant population structure in its national parks and apply this information to the fight against poaching.”