Updated ivory identification tool helps to combat illegal wildlife trade | Stories

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African elephants, along with other ivory-producing species, are protected under international law through CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which regulates the commercial international trade in their parts. To bypass these regulations, ivories are often falsely labelled as other natural or synthetic materials.

“Elephants and other ivory-bearing species found in wildlife trade have been subject to criminal exploitation and their ivories trafficked for decades. The ability to mislead and disguise illegally sourced ivories as either legal or as a different species or material has presented dilemmas for regulators and law enforcers across the globe,” said Crawford Allan, guide editor and senior director, TRAFFIC at WWF US. “The internet has also presented new challenges and has become the front line of illegal trade in elephant ivory. Just as criminals have adapted to marketing products virtually, enforcement and tech companies have adapted in response, in a cat and mouse game,” Allan added.

Fortunately, an updated and expanded ivory identification tool is now available to support not only law enforcement agencies, but also a range of stakeholders including forensic scientists, online technology companies, and wildlife trade management authorities, in differentiating between ivories. The Identification Guide for Ivory and Ivory Substitutes, originally developed in 1991 and last edited in 1999, was jointly developed by CITES, WWF, and TRAFFIC. Forensic experts from the US Fish & Wildlife Service Forensic Laboratory provided additional technical input into distinguishing physical, or morphological, properties by which ivory can be identified

This updated guide includes detailed information on how to tell ivories and lookalikes apart through physical characteristics and provides guidance on distinguishing between ivories in trade online, where a significant portion of illegal trade in elephant ivory is now taking place. There is also reprinted information summarizing modern instrumental methods to identify ivories using laboratory equipment and techniques.

“Enforcement officials need rapid, accurate methods to screen for ivory when inspecting shipments and evaluating online ivory sales. This expanded and updated CITES Identification Guide for Ivory and Ivory Substitutes will be a crucial tool in these enforcement efforts,” said author and forensic scientist with the US Fish & Wildlife Service Forensic Laboratory, Barry Baker.

Versions of the Guide will be available in English, Chinese, French and Spanish languages, allowing for further uptake and application globally. To download the guide, click here.



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