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Elephant genotypes reveal the size and connectivity of transnational ivory traffickers

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2022

Since transnational ivory traffickers continue to smuggle large shipments of elephant ivory out of Africa, yet prosecutions and convictions remain few, the current study identified trafficking networks on the basis of genetic matching of tusks from the same individual or close relatives in separate shipments.


Analyses are drawn from 4,320 savannah (Loxodonta africana) and forest (L. cyclotis) elephant tusks sampled from 49 large ivory seizures totaling 111 t, shipped out of Africa between 2002 and 2019. Network analyses revealed a repeating pattern wherein tusks from the same individual or close relatives were found in separate seizures that were containerized in, and transited through common African ports. Results suggest that individual traffickers are exporting dozens of shipments, with considerable connectivity between traffickers operating in different ports. These tools provide a framework to combine evidence from multiple investigations, strengthen prosecutions, and support indictment and prosecution of transnational ivory traffickers for the totality of their crimes. (publisher abstract modified)


Date Published: February 1, 2022