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Scientists led by Samuel Wasser from the University of Washington found that the comparison of DNA from elephant droppings with DNA from elephant tusks captured by poachers makes it possible to determine the places where illegal hunting is most intense. According to a study published inScience, at present there are only two such districts left. Briefly about the work tellsScience News.To identify areas of intense poaching, the Vasser group took samples from 28 tusk lots confiscated by police from different countries from poachers from 1996 to 2014. The researchers then conducted extensive field work to collect samples of elephant droppings containing the DNA of live animals. Subsequently, scientists supplemented their findings with data from other research groups. In total, DNA samples of 1,001 savanna and 349 forest elephants from 29 African countries were thus collected. With the help of excrement samples, a map of distribution of elephant haplogroups across the continent was compiled. Comparing it with DNA samples from tusks, scientists came to the conclusion that the centers of active poaching for the last 20 years have experienced a series of abrupt movements.
Until 2006, the most active illegal shooting was conducted in Zambia and the DRC. However, then the first of these countries was subjected to significant political pressure, which forced the authorities to combat poachers more actively, and the elephants left the Democratic Republic of the Congo themselves. Twenty-eight of the 28 tusk parts belonged to the period after 2006, and according to Vasser, at least 20 of them occurred from the southeast of Tanzania and the north of Mozambique, where poachers moved their activities.
According to the authors of the work, among which there are employees of Interpol, the problem of shooting elephants is currently very acute. Of the approximately 454 thousand African elephants in 2013, 30 thousand were killed for the purpose of mining tusks. It is assumed that identifying areas where poachers are most active will allow national and international law enforcement organizations to repeat the Zambian scenario and sharply reduce the loss of Tanzanian and Mozambican elephant populations.