Radiocarbon dating of seized ivory confirms rapid decline in African elephant populations and provides insight into illegal trade – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Thure E. Cerling, Janet E. Barnette , Lesley A. Chesson. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Kathleen S. Gobush, Kevin T. Uno, Samuel K. Wasser,  and Xiaomei Xu

Date Published
Carbon-14 measurements on 231 elephant ivory specimens from 14 large ivory seizures (?0.5 ton) made between 2002 and 2014 show that most ivory (ca. 90%) was derived from animals that had died less than 3 y before ivory was confiscated. This indicates that the assumption of recent elephant death for mortality estimates of African elephants is correct: Very little “old” ivory is included in large ivory shipments from Africa. We found only one specimen of the 231 analyzed to have a lag time longer than 6 y. Patterns of trade differ by regions: East African ivory, based on genetic assignments of geographic origin, has a much higher fraction of “rapid” transit than ivory originating in the Tridom region of Cameroon–Gabon–Congo. Carbon-14 is an important tool in understanding patterns of movement of illegal wildlife products.