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Sci Adv. 2018 Sep 19;4(9):eaat0625. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aat0625. eCollection 2018 Sep.

Combating transnational organized crime by linking multiple large ivory seizures to the same dealer.

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Center for Conservation Biology, Department of Biology, University of Washington, Box 351800, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.
Forensic and Genetics Laboratory, Kenya Wildlife Service, Box 40241-0100, Nairobi, Kenya.
Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia, KM10 Jalan Cheras, 56100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Department of Biostatistics, University of Washington, Box 359461, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


Rapid growth in world trade has enabled transnational criminal networks to conceal their contraband among the 1 billion containers shipped worldwide annually. Forensic methods are needed to identify the major cartels moving the contraband into transit. We combine DNA-based sample matching and geographic assignment of tusks to show that the two tusks from the same elephant are often shipped by the same trafficker in separate large consignments of ivory. The paired shipments occur close in time from the same initial place of export and have high overlap in the geographic origins of their tusks. Collectively, these paired shipments form a linked chain that reflects the sizes, interconnectedness, and places of operation of Africa's largest ivory smuggling cartels.

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