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Tracking Tusks

Sam Wasser, Professor of Biology

September 2016
Sam Wasser

As many as 50,000 African elephants—about 10 percent of the elephant population—are killed each year for their ivory, driving the iconic animals toward extinction. Sam Wasser, Endowed Chair in Conservation Biology and director of the UW Center for Conservation Biology, is a pioneer in using DNA evidence to trace the origins of illegal ivory. Analyzing 28 large ivory seizures, his team learned that most ivory has come from just two areas in Africa over the past decade.

“Hopefully our results will force the primary source countries to accept more responsibility for their part in this illegal trade and encourage the international community to work closely with these countries to contain the poaching,” says Wasser, whose work is supported by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the Woodtiger Fund, the Wildcat Foundation, and other sources.