Stage One

Stage one of the illegal ivory trade is where the ivory is
sources from the elephant; this stage is commonly violent for the elephant with
many still alive while their tusks are taken from them. This stage of the cycle
forensics is very important as the forensic evidence is new and untouched this
could be vital to an investigation. Forensic techniques that can be used at
this stage of an investigation are: Ballistics, Trace, Entomology, and
Anthropology; however, in this section the primary focus will be on
fingerprinting; how this is used on ivory and any positives or challenges of
using it as a forensic technique.

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Studies have shown that the use of contrasting powders not
only delivers usable ridge detailing but is one of the easiest and most cost
effective ways of fingerprinting ivory (Weston-Ford et al., 2016). ……
study discussed the use of two reduced size powder material types; SupraNano
black powder and Jet black magnetic powered; the results showed that both
powders gave usable ridge detailing and proved better than standard powders
used for fingerprinting non wildlife evidence (Weston-Ford et al., 2016). Furthermore, the study
illustrates that SupraNano black powder performed the best with visible ridge
markings after 28 days; however, there did appear to be a decrease in the ridge
detail through aging with the best results in the first week after contact (Weston-Ford et al., 2016). The results show that
there is more chance of reliable marking when the prints are retrieved within
the first week after the ivory is taken from the elephant; furthermore, the use
of SupraNano black powder should be implemented for the best ridge marking. Studies
have shown that there are multiple reasons law enforcement agencies choose not
to use fingerprinting on ivory the main reason being the challenges of
obtaining usable ridge details that can be analysis (Weston-Ford et al., 2016).  Literature on this topic is limited with
article from 2016 stated above existing as the only up to date research article
on the use of reduced size powders.

Using reduced size powders is a very sustainable method of
fingerprinting ivory for forensic analysis, especially in the early stages of
illegal ivory trade where countries have limited funding, resources and
education (Weston-Ford et al., 2016). The use powders eliminates
the need for expensive equipment and powders and are simple to use (Weston-Ford et al., 2016). Fingerprinting ivory is
rarely considered by law enforcement agencies to use as forensic evidence in
court; it is thought that with the amount of forensic methods available more
energy would be put into using these methods and making them more effective for
the future (Weston-Ford et al., 2016). The lack of research in
this subject area and low prosecution rate has led the Metropolitan Police
service to investigate the effective methods that can be used in tackling the
illegal ivory trade; however, there still does not seem to be a lot of research
being conducted in this area.

Brief overview of stage

Stage Two

The second stage is the transportation stage; this is when
the ivory is shipped to the buyers; however, to stop detection the ivory is
shipped to several countries before arriving at its destination. Forensic
evidence at this section may have been lost due to handling of the ivory before
shipment; for example, fingerprinting and trace evidence; however, DNA evidence
and isotope analysis can be used because these forensic techniques are not lost
from handling of the ivory. In this section, the focus will be on the use of DNA
analysis in the use of find the geographical origin of the ivory; and the
positives and challenges of using this evidence type.

Ivory trafficker move shipment through various countries
before arriving at its final destination and most often the ivory starts its
journey from a neighbouring country this is done to obscure the ivories origin,
DNA analysis can prevent this problem as it can expose the geographical origin
of the ivory (American, 2015; Wasser et al., 2008). The use of DNA for
wildlife forensic applications are increasing this is because DNA can be
involved in multiple investigations for example in the determining whether two
samples match, to establish the lineage of an individual and to identify the
geographical origin (Johnson, Wilson-Wilde, & Linacre, 2014). In identifying the subject
of a shipment that has been seized forensics can come in very useful (Tejeda, Brien, Britannica, & Holmes, 2017). It has been difficult for
authorities to stop the illegal ivory trade this is partly due to the fact that
most forensic information is discovered at the shipping stage (Wasser et al., 2008), however Samuel Wasser a
conservation biologist from the University of Washington has shown that DNA
analysis used at this stage can be very valuable in discovering the origin of
the ivory seized at shipping ports (Wasser et al., 2004, 2007; Wasser et al., 2008). Furthermore Wasser has
shown that finding the origin of the elephants being poached can show where
these ‘hotspots’ for poacher activity are, benefiting law enforcement agencies as
they can then focus their resources in these areas (American, 2015; Wasser et al., 2004, 2007; WASSER et
al., 2008).

The approach used by Wasser combined genetic and statistical
methods to estimate the regional origin of the group sample and to then
estimate the individual samples geographical origin (Wasser et al., 2004; Wasser et al., 2008). Wasser compared seized
ivory genotypes to over 600 reference samples collected all across Africa (American, 2015; Wasser et al., 2008). Analysing the ivory Wasser
could find out the spot where the poaching occurred by finding special
mutations in the ivory and lining it up with his dung map (American, 2015). When given random samples
of elephant dung Wasser found where it was retrieved within 190 miles (American, 2015). Wasser explained that “Scat
is the most accessible animal product in the world, and it contains a huge
amount of information; DNA, microbiome in its gut, reproductive hormones,
stress, nutritional hormones and toxins” (American, 2015). Elephants were correctly
appointed to their place of origin, with “50% of samples located within 500km
and 80% within 932km” (Wasser et al., 2004). Wasser identified that the
main poaching hotspots were located in the South East of Africa most
importantly the countries of Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya (American, 2015; Wasser et al., 2004; Wasser et al.,
2008). He had
analysed 28 shipments by 2015 all connected to the hotspot areas (American, 2015). His concern was that the
hotspots would move to a different area and with most countries taking one or
two years to hand over seized shipments it would be difficult to identify these
movements in hotspots (American, 2015).

This method of forensics prevents countries from denying
their problem with poaching as they cannot deny the facts that DNA analysis is
showing, eventually stopping the poaching of elephants at the heat of the
killing.  (Wasser et al., 2007; Wasser et al., 2008). Monitoring the origin of
the ivory travelling through main ivory markets would help the efforts in
containing the illegal trade (Wasser et al., 2004).  Accessing to the reference samples to run
analysis on evidence is a big problem as if this is not collected or shared
there is nothing to compare evidence to, all data gathered should be stored in
a space were all countries have access to that information (Tejeda et al., 2017). A launch in 2016 by CITES
allowed countries to access to 700 reference samples from 30 countries, this
turned in to the largest Ivory database in the world, this was named IvoryID (Tejeda et al., 2017). 

Brief overview of stage

Stage 3

The third and final stage of ivory trade is the selling of
the ivory. This stage is the most difficult to achieve evidence from as
evidence will be lost after the transporting of the ivory to the destination
country. In this section, the forensic techniques that can be used are similar
to the techniques in stage two; however, tool mark analysis could be used at
this stage if the ivory has been worked in to a buyable item the tool marks
could determine the maker of the item; although, this is might be difficult if
there are several people who sell ivory and they use the same equipment.
Therefore, this section will look in to the use of Isotope Analysis and the
positive and challenges of using this forensic technique.

Isotopic analysis can be very important in an investigation
or the management of elephants. An advantage of using isotopic analysis when
trying to find the origin of illegal ivory is that the analysis can be used on samples
without DNA or reduced DNA (Rijkelijkhuizen, Kootker, & Davies, 2015;
Ziegler, Merker, Streit, Boner, & Jacob, 2016). Stable isotope analysis
used the components of the elephant’s diet, climate and environment to find the
geographical origin of the elephant ivory (Codron et al., n.d.;
Murphy, 2012; Ziegler et al., 2016). The components found in elephants
ivory are carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, strontium and lead the amount of each
element in the ivory depends on the elephants lifestyle (Codron et al., n.d.; Murphy, 2012; Ziegler et al.,
2016) . To find
the region where the elephant originated from variations in isotope ratios are
used by finding out the elephants diet water sources and climate (Codron et al., n.d.; Murphy, 2012; Ziegler et al.,
2016). Plants
are at least 25% of an elephant’s diet and this can be important as the
vegetation which grows in a savannah environment differs between the vegetation
which grows in a forest environment; furthermore, the carbon ratios in the
ivory can help detect the concentration of trees to recognise if the ivory came
from a forest or savannah elephant (Codron et al., n.d.; Murphy, 2012; Ziegler et al.,

The data that can be collected from illegal ivory and used
for isotope analysis can accurately place half of all samples within 381km of
the elephant’s origin and can place 75% of sample within 1154km of the origin (Ziegler et al., 2016). Moreover, this simple
process and analysis can be shared with the laboratories from the regions the
illegal ivory is coming from to compare the data they have collected to ivory
ID; this would help reduce the amount of illegal ivory leaving the country of
origin (Ziegler et al., 2016). However, there is the fact
that elephants migrate over large areas in their life which can make it hard using
isotope analysis to find the exact geographical origin of an individual (Rijkelijkhuizen et al., 2015).

Brief overview of stage


There are
certain challenges when working with forensics and illegal ivory. Wildlife
forensic labs are expensive to run and funding towards wildlife forensics is a
big issue (Tejeda et al., 2017). Some people view wildlife forensic not to be
important because the forensics are not being conducted on humans and some say
this is a waste of funding and resources(Huffman
& Wallace, 2011). However, forensics is a big part of
combatting wildlife crime. The small amount of wildlife forensics labs across
the world means that most countries do not have access to their own laboratory;
therefore, they rely on mailing wildlife evidence to other countries for
analysis (Tejeda
et al., 2017). Due to funds and insufficient
resources the way these are packed are not adequate; the evidence mailed
inadequately can be admissible in court if used in a case; considering that the
evidence could have been contaminated during transportation (Tejeda et al., 2017).

Access to
laboratories is not the only access problem wildlife forensics officers have, access
to reference samples as means of running analysis also causes a problem because
countries are not collecting and sharing sample. With no sample, there is
nothing to compare evidence to, all data gathered should be stored in a space
were all countries have access to the information (Tejeda et al., 2017). A launch in 2016 by CITES allowed countries to
access to 700 reference samples from 30 countries, this turned in to the
largest Ivory database in the world, this was named IvoryID (Tejeda
et al., 2017). 
CITES are helping to guide countries in the correct direction; however,
there can be more done on this issue with more research.

Advances in
computer technology have developed the DNA, fingerprint and ballistics systems
for fasted identification (Huffman
& Wallace, 2011). Though, Technology is always
advancing and new technology being implemented, in countries not as economically
developed this technology in not use because it is putting “powerful technology
into the hands of someone who has not even had the technology for
fingerprinting” (Tejeda et al., 2017). The necessity for experience in higher education and
casework poses barriers within some countries who do not have adequate
facilities to accommodate the experience of using technology and forensics
methods. CITES and these countries may benefit from organising an exchange
between countries for educational purposes; this scheme would benefit both
countries and help create one standard of practice for every county to follow (Tejeda et al., 2017). Countries have different standards of practice which
makes it difficult to communicate and cooperate on issues, standardizing
wildlife forensic practice between all countries would improve their
coordination between each other and in turn improving the effort to decrease
illegal ivory trade (“How
forensic science can stop slaughter of endangered wildlife | New Scientist,”

To understand
the reasons why forensic techniques need to be used in illegal ivory investigation
the incentives for trading ivory must be identified.


The high
prices and high demand for ivory gives the people in African and Asian countries
who struggle with poverty and unemployment an incentive to commit wildlife
offences (Bennett, 2015; Douglas-Hamilton, 2008;
Kideghesho, 2016). Local communities rely on criminal activities and with
poachers and traffickers able to pay their way out of problems the economic
gain of committing a criminal offence out weights the reasons for staying to
the law (Bennett,
2015; Douglas-Hamilton, 2008; Kideghesho, 2016). Scholars
suggest that unemployment, poverty and crime are linked; In 1968, a theorist
called Howard Becker came up with the economic theory of crime which presumes people
turn to crime if the costs of committing the crime are lower than the benefits
gained (Douglas-Hamilton, 2008; Kideghesho, 2016). The theory can be illustrated by looking at the statistics
for one of the highest suppliers of illegal ivory, Tanzania on its unemployment
and poverty; the statistics show that in 2015 unemployment was at 11.88%;
furthermore, 28.2% were said to be under the basic needs poverty line (Douglas-Hamilton,
2008; Kideghesho, 2016). Polices to decrease poverty and
unemployment in countries like Africa and Asia where the ivory is being sourced
this should decrease the need and benefits for criminal activity (Douglas-Hamilton,
2008; Kideghesho, 2016). Governments have tried to introduce
the benefit sharing scheme aimed to encourage people to refrain from criminal
activities and reduce poverty in communities; however, this scheme has not
worked as the support from the scheme does not compare to the gains of wildlife
crime (Douglas-Hamilton,
2008; Kideghesho, 2016).

from governments, police and rangers influence the illegal ivory trade; corrupt
government fail to implement legislation to protect wildlife; using wildlife conservation
funds for their own personal gain and the signing of fraudulent paperwork for
endangered or threatened species(Bennett,
2015; Kideghesho, 2016; Tejeda et al., 2017) Poor regulation of government
stockpiles in Africa led to corruption when illegal ivory entered domestic markets
as one-off stockpile sales (WildAid,
Save the Elephants, & African Wild life foundation, 2014). The countries who continue the
demand for ivory; United States, China, and Japan, still have legal domestic
ivory markets; most of this ivory is sold with a certification to say that the
ivory being used is coming from legal stockpiles or as antiques (Bennett,
2015). However, as previous explained these
documentations can be forged so they can legally sell illegal ivory.

Some say that
legalising the trade of ivory could be more effective at controlling and regulating
the sales of ivory (corrupt world). Sales can be used for conservation by fulfilling
demand and funds can be used to support conservation work (corrupt world). However,
this does not take into consideration the poacher and traffickers who collected
ivory because it is the only means to feed their family; So, on the other hand having
in place good and effective polices and plans for specific countries to address
their specific problem can help address the issues of illegal ivory trade and
could also improve these barriers that are stopping the demand and need to hunt
ivory (Kideghesho,
2016). Increasing public awareness of the governments
performance on health, education and employment might increase pressure on
governments to improve these sectors; also, if people are aware of government
corruptions against wildlife conservation this might increase their support (Kideghesho,
2016). Results of a 2014 survey shows that
demand reduction campaigns are impacting on the awareness, attitudes and
behaviours of locals toward elephants and the illegal ivory trade (WildAid,
Save the Elephants, & African Wild life foundation, 2014).