By SARAH POLUS – The Hill
Authorities in the United States and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) used elephant DNA to bust a multimillion dollar animal trafficking scheme, CNN reported on Wednesday.
The arrest of two men last week in Edmonds, Wash., led to the seizure of more than a ton of illegal elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn, popular goods in the international illegal wildlife trafficking market, according to a release from the Department of Justice.
The men were indicted by a federal grand jury on 11 counts of conspiracy, money laundering, smuggling and Lacey Act violations after officials say they determined that the two used a middle man to smuggle four packages into the United States.
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum of 20 years in prison on the smuggling and money laundering charges and five years on the conspiracy and Lacey Act violations, notes the Justice Department.
The contraband was concealed by being cut into small pieces that were painted black and mixed with ebony wood. The men declared the mixture as “wood” when they entered the United States. They put the value of the wood mix to authorities to be between $50 to $60, while the true value of the ivory and horn was $14,500 and $18,000, respectively.
Sam Wasser, the co-executive director of the Center for Environmental Forensic Science (CEFS) at the University of Washington, said their vast database of elephant DNA helped identify the scheme, CNN reports.
He noted when the center evaluated the DNA of the recently seized ivory they determined an overlap in origin, “which suggests it was the same transnational criminal organization (TCO) moving both shipments.”
Special agent in charge Robert Hammer of Homeland Security Investigations added that the DNA development will help nations disrupt and prosecute criminal wildlife trafficking organizations that target threatened species.
“Through analysis conducted by CEFS of the DNA collected during these missions, we are able to identify DNA matches between multiple seizures that otherwise would not have been connected,” he told CNN.