An elephant task


The ivory trade was banned by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) in 1989. However, illegal trade continues and as such researchers in India suggest that there is a continued need to characterize Asian elephant ivory and to be able to compare it with African ivory so that national and international laws can be implemented more effectively.

Previously, Erich Raubenheimer and colleagues in the Department of Oral Pathology, Medical University of Southern Africa, established an ivory database that would allow law enforcers to trace the source of illegal ivory and so identify poorly managed game parks, particularly in Africa. However, the ivory of Asian elephants, of which half are found in India, is more prized than African ivory. It is only the males of the Asian elephant that has tusks and they are much smaller than those of its African counterpart. Despite the illegal price differential between continents, the ivory of African and Asian elephants is indistinguishable in superficial appearance, particularly once processed, so it is almost impossible to trace the origin of tusks or a piece of work.

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