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December 21, 2015 AT 11:00 am

Handheld Scanner Could Quickly Differentiate between Legal and Illegal Ivory

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Exciting news for elephants from National Geographic:

elephants. Only about 43,000 are left in the wild, and they face threats from habitat loss and conflicts with people.

Another 13,000 or so are domesticated, helping move heavy objects or carry people. In Thailand, it’s legal to buy and sell ivory from these domesticated elephants.

That little loophole has created a big problem: It gives sellers the opportunity to pass off illegal ivory as above-board because, absent DNA analysis, there’s no sure way to tell the difference. As a result, Thailand’s ivory market has been flooded with illegal African elephant ivory.

That could change very soon. A new scanner developed by a team of Thai scientists will supposedly be able to tell, on the spot, whether a piece of ivory is from an Asian elephant (potentially legal) or an African elephant (definitely not legal).

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