On April 10, 2018, AWI awarded the Schweitzer Medal to Dr. Samuel K Wasser, in recognition of groundbreaking work that has contributed enormously to the fight against wildlife trafficking.
Wasser is the endowed chair in Conservation Biology and director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington. He has pioneered noninvasive methods to measure the abundance, distribution, and physiological condition of wildlife from their droppings, relying on detection dogs to locate these samples over large wilderness areas. He applies these tools to forensic analyses of transnational wildlife crime, as well as to address the impacts of poaching, oil development, and overfishing on the well-being of endangered wildlife populations.
Based on DNA analyses of elephant dung, Wasser has assembled a DNA reference map of elephants across Africa that is widely used to determine the geographic origins of poached ivory. The map has enabled his team to identify Africa’s largest elephant poaching hotspots, track the number and connectivity of major ivory traffickers operating in Africa, and uncover strategies that transnational organized crime syndicates use to acquire and move their contraband around the world. This work has led to prosecutions of major transnational ivory traffickers and nurtured key collaborations with national and international law enforcement agencies, including INTERPOL, Homeland Security Investigations, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and wildlife authorities in numerous source and transit countries across Africa and Asia.