Carbon dating elephant
Cerling, a geochemist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.Central African forest elephants have fallen by an estimated 62% from 2002 to 2011.Despite increased awareness and activism seeking to protect wildlife, most illegal ivory likely comes from elephants that were killed by poachers in recent years, a new study has found.Published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study found that poaching still poses a severe threat to elephants, whose numbers continue to decline.More than 90 percent of ivory in large seized shipments came from elephants that died less than three years before, according to a new University of Utah study. bans come 26 years after a 1990 ban on international trade in ivory, aimed at curtailing the widespread poaching of elephants, whose populations plummeted in the 1980s.Combining radiocarbon ivory dating with genetic analysis provides a picture of when and where poachers are killing elephants, useful tools in the ongoing battle against illegal animal product trade. Despite efforts to stop the ivory trade, poaching claims an estimated 8 percent of African elephants each year, or around 96 elephants per day. Bans usually allow the sale of ivory that was legally acquired prior to 1976, including heirloom or antique pieces.At the Selous Wildlife Reserve in Tanzania, savanna elephants have declined 66% from 2009 to 2013.“There’s been a staggering rate of elephant loss every year,” Cerling said.
It’s never been very clear, however, if seized ivory comes from elephants killed further back in the past or more recently.Elephant poaching is alive and well — and the elephants are not.A team of scientists examining seized shipments of elephant ivory from Africa have found that the vast majority came from elephants that died within the last three years.As plants took up this radioactive carbon, the heightened carbon-14 signature was preserved in the plants and transferred to animals.As elephants grow new material at the base of their tusks, the ivory contains the carbon-14 signature of the plants the elephant had recently eaten.