The shocking truth of the ivory trade has been laid bare in new research which shows most ivory being sold comes from freshly-killed elephants.
While killing elephants for ivory is illegal, and only historic ivory should be traded, the latest research shows that the law is being flouted.
A remarkable new study used radioactive particles from open-air nuclear bomb tests to figure out how old tusks were.
Nearly all of the ivory seized and tested from large shipments had come from recently-killed elephants and not historic or antique ivory.
Researchers involved in the study said they were horrified at how small some of the tusks being traded were; showing that young animals are being shot. When their parents rush to their rescue, they too are killed for their tusks.
The data also reveals that it is taking longer to send shipments of ivory from Africa to Asia. That is believed to be because poachers are finding it more difficult to find elephants to kill.
Elephant numbers are rapidly dropping as they are targeted due to poachers. Between 2007 and 2014, the number of elephants fell by nearly a third, from 496,000 to 352,000.
The shocking study revealed that nine tenths of ivory taken from large shipments had come from elephants which had been killed within the last three years.
Lesley Chesson, president of US-based Isoforensics, which provided the technology to carry out the research, said: “This work demonstrates that little or no ‘old’ ivory, like that held in government stockpiles, is ending up on the black market, which is good news for the security and monitoring of those stockpiles.”
She said that while most ivory traders claimed their supplies dated back to a time before the ivory trade was outlawed, this latest piece of research proved that was highly likely to be a falsehood.
The study involved measuring the amount of the carbon-14 isotope in the tusks. This was released into the atmosphere all over the world by the open-air atomic bomb tests in the mid-20th century.
Because the substance is taken up by plants, which are eaten by animals, how much material there is in material such as bone, teeth and tusks can be used to date ivory.
Professor Thure Cerlin, from Utah University, who was lead author of the research, now believes this latest data could be used to help catch and prosecute poachers.