New Thai innovation in fight against ivory trade



Date Published
A NEW Thai-developed wildlife forensic science innovation called ‘Tusk’ is ready to be used in the fight against illegal ivory trading by quickly identifying if a tusk or ivory product came from Asia or Africa.
Determining the origin of smuggled ivory tusks and products will now be carried out faster – within 10 minutes – and without having to destroy the items thanks to the portable X-ray fluorescent ‘Spectrometre’. 
‘Tusk’ is the result of a collaboration between the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and Chiang Mai University (CMU)’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.
DNP sponsored the project and provided 208 ivory samples from Asia and Africa for CMU researchers to study. 
The origin of samples is determined in accordance with the Thailand National Ivory Action Plan (revised edition). The plan was proposed to CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) secretariat and led to an amendment of the Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act 1992 in Thailand, with African elephants declared protected animals. 
Thailand also passed the Ivory Trade Act 2015 in a bid to control the trade of ivory and ivory products to prevent African ivory entering the Kingdom.
Previously, the inspection of illegal ivory was based on physical characteristics. It was then ground into powder and the DNA was checked to determine its origin, a process that normally took two weeks.
At a press conference last week at Chiang Mai’s Holiday Inn Hotel, DNP deputy chief Kanita Ouitavon said there was now no need to destroy seized ivory.
She said the CMU study was practical and could help promote other innovations by Thai scientists, researchers and institutes. 
However, she said this was an initial success and the new challenge for scientists was to improve the device’s efficiency. 
Veterinary medicine lecturer Korakot Nganvongpanit, who headed the research project, said it was important not to destroy ivory samples. He said scientists could tell where ivory came from based on minerals found in the ivory.
Korakot said African and Asian elephants eat different food and live in different environments, so the minerals found in them are different. 
There have been similar studies in other countries but this was the first time a portable tool for ivory differentiation had been developed, he said.
The device features a modified X-ray machine from Bara Scientific Co Ltd. The original machine is used in the mining industry. Of the 208 samples, 102 were from Asian elephants and 106 were from African elephants. 
The device, which can detect up to 70 minerals, detected 23 minerals in the ivory when only 10 is needed to determine its origin.