Schweitzer Medalist Helps Nab Ivory and Horn Smugglers

Forensic analysis conducted by Dr. Sam Wasser led to the recent arrest of two men from the Democratic Republic of the Congo for conspiring to bring more than two tons of ivory, a ton of pangolin scales, and multiple white rhinoceros horns into the United States. Both men were indicted on 11 counts of conspiracy, money laundering, smuggling, and US Lacey Act violations. If convicted, they could face up to 25 years in prison.

rhino - photo by Erni
photo by Erni

Wasser, who is co-executive director of the University of Washington’s Center for Environmental Forensic Science, used DNA from the seized ivory to identify the origin of the poached animals based on a DNA database he developed of previously seized ivory products. Since 2004, Wasser and his team have been conducting genetic analyses of large elephant ivory seizures to identify where animals were poached. His work helps law enforcement officials link individual smugglers to specific ivory shipments. In 2018, AWI awarded the Schweitzer Medal to Wasser in recognition of his pioneering efforts to thwart wildlife trafficking. (See AWI Quarterly, summer 2018.) That same year, his work helped identify the three largest ivory smuggling cartels in Africa.