UW professor tracking down elephant poachers

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by GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @gchittimK5

KING5.com

Posted on August 24, 2012 at 6:50 PM

Updated Friday, Aug 24 at 7:00 PM

When World Wildlife Fund posted video of an elephant slaughter in Cameroon, many people took a little time to let it sink in, but for University of Washington Professor Samuel Wasser,  it was time to go to work. 

Wasser is an expert on endangered animal scat. He has made several discoveries using specially trained dogs to sniff out dung of animals that Wasser then analyzes. He can find out what the animal eats, if it is healthy, even if its hormonally stressed. 

Wasser and his crew have collected dung samples from the elephants herds of Africa.

Give him a dung sample and he can tell you which herd it came from, where they are and how they are doing. Give him a sample of seized, illegal ivory and he can match the DNA to a dung sample and bingo, he knows where the ivory tusk came from.

If he gets the samples early enough, Wasser says he can alert rangers that poachers are operating in their area. 
 
"So we are localizing where the poaching is occurring, the poaching hot spots so we can get law enforcement to these strategic areas where the poaching is most rampant," said Wasser.
 
If the seized shipment comes from a single herd he knows poachers are to blame. If it comes from several different herds in several countries, he knows somebody, perhaps a rogue government, is selling off stockpiles of illegal ivory.
 
It gives wildlife officers one more tool in the battle against a billion dollar black market industry that just seems to keep getting bigger.

More from World Wildlife Fund (Warning: may contain graphic images)

PDF: Central Africa poaching background

Video: Camaroon elephant slaughter

Photos: Elephant slaughter

 

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