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tv   Whos Killing The Elephants  Al Jazeera  July 8, 2020 12:33pm-1:01pm +03

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this is techno a show about innovations that can change lives the science of fighting wildfires we're going to explore the intersection of hardware and humanity and we're doing it in a unique way. this is a show about science oh not by scientists tonight's techno investigates the ivory trail they've tried to seize it. bernie but nothing has stopped the terrible trade in illegal ivory. now a. new tools straight from the lab that could fight a crime that's brought elephants to the brink of extinction getting a seizure is a great victory but that owns already dead. from rita davison is an environmental
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biologist i am holding a tray of an elephant. she'll show us the high tech plan to stop the killing. then. céline stranded along the california freeway yes freeway doctor should do some more is a mechanical engineer chill show us what's been done to find on why this is happening at this stage today feeling to stressed and i'm still taurus i'm an entomologist vamps our team then we. know it's do some science. while going to techno on phil toys joined by maria to davison and doctors should do some more because there were outlaws out there who are working in the shadows committing horrible acts against the senseless yet majestic animals we're talking about the ivory poachers who have decimated the populations of elephants in africa
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and it's really a nominee because ivory guy is for about a $1000.00 a pound move on evil than an illegal drugs and you know what that means is that the damage has been devastating over 100000 elephants have been killed in just the last 3 years and the question is what can we do about it we found a team of scientists that are using some unexpected weapons d.n.a. and radiocarbon dating check it out. april 18th 2015. customs intercepts 4 tonnes of ivory smuggled in being sacks from the democratic republic of congo. it is the largest seizure in this country's history the ivory on the way to laos season in bangkok after a tip the seizure makes headlines thai customs displayed over 3 tons of confiscated african ivory worth 6000000 dollars a historic busto by boat from kenya somebody just 900 elephants but the
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perpetrators of this horrible crime against animals are never caught for law enforcement entities like interpol stopping the killing of elephants at the source is. what's critical. the question ends where exactly is all this ivory coming from they almost always shipped the ivory out of a different country from where it was poached because that's where you start your search looking in the wrong place sam wasser is the director of the center for conservation biology at the university of washington. when it comes to solving the mysteries of the illegal trade wasser has created a coalition of scientists virtual detectives using techniques in d.n.a. extraction from ivory. genetic mapping through dung sampling and radiocarbon dating this multipronged approach attacks a criminal enterprise that's brought the majestic african elephant to the brink of extinction and there's probably only $450000.00 elephants left so the whole focus
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of our lab is to really try to use d.n.a. assignment of large. singapore 2000 to 6 and a half tons of ivory seized the largest in the country's history roughly 650 elephants were killed for this haul of ivory. but where in africa did the ivory originate from they assume this much ivory must come from multiple sources authorities send samples to washers lab for analysis right now from anywhere in africa we can assign a seizure of ivory closer than 300 kilometers to where it came from wasser and his team get to work the 1st step is to prepare the samples of seized ivory. we cut off a piece of the ivory and then when we do is we stick that piece inside a plastic tube with a magnet and stain the steel plugs on the end we drop that in liquid nitrogen which
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cools it to about minus $240.00 degrees celsius so extremely cold within 3 minutes it comes out like baby powder. so it's just a pulse of. the ivory and it preserves the d.n.a. at the same time that was one of the biggest breakthroughs of our. elephant d.n.a. from the ivory seized in singapore is extracted and analyzed in last year's lab the d.n.a. from the tusks is then matched against a genetic reference map of africa's elephant populations this map has been generated by d.n.a. taken from another source rich in elephant d.n.a. i am holding a tray of elephant coop not exactly something you'd associate as a tool for fighting international crime but these samples provide critical pieces of data for creating a genetic map of elephants across africa yup collecting dung samples may not be glamorous work but it's
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a task wasser and his team take seriously we make the map from the dung we take genetic markers out of the dung samples so you see here this map of africa there's about $1400.00 total samples here and each sample is from a separate family group loesser was able to determine the origin of the 6 and a half tons of ivory seized in singapore and shipped out of malawi it all came from a neighboring country zambia. wasserstein had made a discovery that would revolutionize law enforcement's approach to poaching basically the study debunked some of the assumptions that you and interpol had about how these activities were working what were those assumptions and so as assumptions that law enforcement general had and one was when you get a big seizure they were cherry picked from all over africa and what we showed is that's not what's happening there in the same area over and over and over again. the plight of the african elephant has been well documented these heartbreaking
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images were shot in a sanctuary for elephant orphans in kenya from before the biggest enemy of elephants when the out in the woods mind this 2 year old being bottle fed stood by his mother's body for 3 days after she was murdered for her tusks so 1st you kill the bowls and then you kill the matriarch so now you're destroying the leadership in your group as well as the long term knowledge that these elephants have and when elephants become vulnerable so does the rest of the ecosystem there are these keystone species where you take this one out and it has this huge ripple effect on all these other species elephants are true keystone species. sophisticated transnational syndicates oversee every step of the trade from the illegal poaching to the smuggling of tusks to carving factories and shops around the world. this footage part of an undercover investigation captures a shipping agent explaining how ivory is smuggled out of africa very wrong that.
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we need an urgent method that stops the killing even getting a seizure is a great victory but the owners are already dead. last month singaporean customs seized another shipment of ivory coming out of kenya and headed for vietnam $3.00 tons worth an estimated. $8000000.00 singaporean authorities have already contacted wasser to oversee d.n.a. analysis washer's lab and now receive samples from over 90 percent of all marj i have receivers what we are trying to really do is to figure out where are the major poaching hotspots across africa his latest study based on d.n.a. analysis of 28 seizures between 19062014 reveals there may be only 2 major hotspots for poaching in africa southern tanzania and a place known as the tri them. when you're saying hot spots you mean hot spots of
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poaching activity hotspots of seizure activity what are you referring to a hot spot is a place where you are able to provide multiple tons of ivory repeatedly over multiple years then we have a place we can focus law enforcement on take those out and perhaps choke the source of the ivory from entering the network and unravel it so that's the big plan. a techno crew member is on vacation in thailand when he comes across this all too common display he's told of their ivory pieces offered up for sale for a price the sale of ivory to foreigners is illegal in thailand yet as our camera reveals it goes on as this old newsreel footage shows ivory was once very popular
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with a crop but soon to his own but all that changed in 1990 when the international trade in ivory was made illegal. d.n.a. analysis is one tool that could ultimately help government's crackdown on where ivory is coming from but it can't tell investigators when the killing took place anything post ban is illegal to. what it comes down to is this this radio carbon dating method can tell us if trade of ivory is legal or not kevin you know is a geo chemist who uses a method known as radiocarbon dating to determine the age of ivory this is the part of the tusk that was actually growing when the animal was shot because we need to know when did this elephant die and so this part of the tusk tells us that and so we drove the powder on to this wave paper here.
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and we collect it into these vials next to ivory powder is combusted and turned into pure c o 2 so what is this we can bust it in this tube it there's other impurities in there other gases we need to get rid of those so that when we measure the radio carbon content we just are measuring the c o 2 gases radiocarbon dating literally relies on the fallout from the events that took place from 1952 to 1963. 1. above ground atomic testing between the united states in the soviet union we've basically doubled the radio carbon concentration in the atmosphere now what does that mean then for organisms when you have a spike in radio carbon in the atmosphere what it did do is give them all the unique geochemical fingerprint in their tissues all these photosynthetic organisms trees grasses that sort of thing are taking in c o 2 some of it having carbon 14 in it and in the animals that eat that then also
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take on that radio carbon signature look there it is you can actually see it's freezing down on the right side so now we're going to do is torch it off and have the final final product. and bring this to them and you do this individually for each sample yeah this is time consuming it's so you want to wear these to to watch this process so this is just a regular methane tour. not to be done at home and the warm glass. all around that it's sort of like. holding soft serve. and it's unique. and now you can see. there's our c o 2 right there so that's that's the frozen c o 2 from an elephant heading for radio carbon announces after you know receives the radio carbon content of a piece of ivory he can match it against the bomb curves
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a record of atmospheric levels of c 14 before and after the atomic testing era the radio carbon dating a 5 re could be used to verify the age of ivory being sold on the legal market as antiques but here's the bottom curve and i call this left side before 963 the rising limb so the tusk is imprinted with the radiocarbon constitution from that year so we can in cohen measure that radiocarbon concentration and say ok it's for example 1.3 and that allows us to draw a horizontal line across the bottom curve here and you can see it actually intersects it into place 2 answers it could be 1960 or it could be $1080.00 so the way to do this is to sample part of the test that you know is older and in the part it's assume there is younger and compare the relative radiocarbon concentrations and just fit them back onto this curve so if the older one has a higher concentration in the younger has
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a lower than your on this falling limb of the bomb curve november 2013 canadian authorities learned that a pair of tusks are being offered by this toronto based auction house as antiques suspecting the tusks are not as old as the sellers claim authorities confiscate them and turn them over to. buy dated a pair of tasks clearly showing this is an elephant was poached after the law went into effect and. the auction house went to court and pleaded guilty now you know and collaborator turi serling have teamed up with wasser to apply this technique to investigate trends in the international trade in illegal ivory since the international ban african countries have been stockpiling confiscated ivory occasionally they destroy some of it but much of it remains sitting in government warehouses so they have huge stockpiles on the order of $100.00 or $120.00 tons in some of these nations there so they're sitting on this ivory waiting for the day that the international market opens again if current poaching hotspots are shut
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down the next major source for ivory could be the stockpiles and radiocarbon dating would help confirm it to what extent do you wrestle with despair at the situation and to what extent do you embrace hope and there have been some seizures where i got to say you know when we pulled them out and started rinsing him off in the blood was pouring out of him that we were just sitting there in tears i mean you know that that has happened but you know you get. used to it and and then you start getting these breakthroughs and so no i feel like you know we've got a plan i feel like we're making and in there and that's really what drives me. to steps of d.n.a. techniques that you talk about that practice has been done for a long time to maybe track the origin of the disease what took him so long to get through tracking down poachers you know we've used d.n.a. techniques to understand populations of lots of wildlife we're using it within the
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context of conservation a lot more now it's still a fairly new field so there was a time when ivory was used in canada and billiard balls and now it's illegal but why is the market still so robots the main markets are in china and then actually the united states is the 2nd largest player here part of what's driving that is that there's some. communities in the us that really value ivory i receive mostly find it as an ornamental carving it's very beautiful when it's polished and carved and it carries a sort of status because of its value so there's still a pretty high demand now there is a crisis unfolding on the coast of california from san diego up to san francisco and beyond the sea lions are leaving their natural ocean habitat and wandering up on shore even sometimes in people's yards and streets while i joined a ride on my we were literally rescuing sea lion pox the story is crazy some of
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it's heartbreaking and it's coming up that. this punk named johnny cash is making a run towards the open ocean with a satellite transmitter tied to his back he might hold the on says to a sad epidemic among california's coastline. there are plenty of highways to hug california's ocean shores and he's 90 freeway isn't one of them the sight of a baby seen a quarter of a mile inland is unsettling. but in 2015 is not that unusual according to local news agencies the creatures are stranding starving and apparently dying in record numbers this year along the coast the images tell on haunting story well we have seen spikes and rethink here as the 2015 is already off to an unusually start the headlines paint
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a picture of an epidemic of sick pops in desperate search of food but what's really going on is more complex techno went to the san diego headquarters for a federal agency that studies the oceans says what's happened in the last 2 years is the waters in the northeast pacific have warmed up way beyond anything more used to according to noah a warm up ocean off southern california has made it hard to financing. the lions to forage and as a result the pups are not getting enough nourishment el nino is an event scientists have seen several times but this year's temperature is a quite different what's really different is that the waters in the northeast pacific warmed up over a year ago and usually that warming occurs after the only in your developed in this case that preceded it ocean warming impacts the food chain from the bottom up as upwelling wins a causing deep water currents typically rife with cold water nutrients to circulate
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up mostly nutrient depleted warm water so when you talk about nutrients what is that that biologic material in the deep ocean gets remember ally's tend to work in organic nutrients and so the upwelling them keeps that cycle going so how does it affect the top of the food chain the whole food chain gets depressed a lot of the those fish species that could move have moved northward and the food source has a lot less than we had last year and the evidence can be seen daily all along the california coast from san diego to san francisco in san diego sea world the company which face public heat for. has taken a public role in sea lion rescue efforts. it's really on you know it's like the writing that is how long do you feed them for typically it will be 2 painting for about 12 days and about 5 days they have gained enough strength to actually start showing some interest again a question and they will start taking water to the sea lions a facet method to an almost tree asure like setting the pups the fed
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a special protein which formula up to $200.00 feedings a day take place behind the scenes we have to gradually read about it because their bodies haven't seen fresh and they can't process it properly they have to show it to us that they can are fully process 3 to 5 pounds of fish per day which is what they would require to maintain their weight before we stop to feed brands to it observe sea lion health at sea world's nonprofit research on. so in studying their habitats you able to get a better idea of what's happening in terms of global climate change food seem to have vanished for some reason the question is whether that's a sign i think of long term climate change the bigger issue is are these little intensive answered we're seeing recently going to become more common as climate generally changes according to the national marine fisheries service is the west.
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as rescued pups are returning starved again it is the most historically busy year ever there's already been 2500 sea lions stranded in california this year alone in the 1st 12 weeks that we're into the year marine biologists and executive director of the pacific marine mammal center keith i'm a tosser has seen it all but. there are actually 6 months old coming into us under birthweight that's all start there the other difference in this year that we didn't see in 20132014 is that we're now seeing a lot of adults coming in that are very me seated very star you can see every bone in their body and that's a difference from the last 2 years metacity and his team east satellite titan technology to understand why this is happening tagging felines is so new to these pups the research pioneers and we want to make sure that the animals that we're putting back out into the wild during this unusually bad russian make the attacking
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happens fast as i learned watching johnny cash get his device he spent 2 months gaining 25 pounds and is a worthy candidate here for you know that i am your god. send you trying to seal the edges yeah a little further somewhere in the back of that not so feel good think you are going to tighten up the back will be good this year several sea lions return to metastases rehab starving once again but rescue centers along the coast compiling satellite tagging dates. this hype that johnny cash and his newly released friends who beat the odds a move the line toward survival rather than the stranding. or hopefully that no return needs and then live and long happy life that's the plan and that's what's going to happen we're going to see them out on the rocks in 9 or 10 years we're going to begin helping. i work a lot of behavior in my research and what i found really fascinating about this is what is causing this behavior of the pope's arches going in
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a little bit from shore they're going miles are going on this long journey in there so something evolved in them that the changing climate is just messing with their their innate response to temperature it's for us more could it be just utter desperation right i mean if you reach a certain level of lack of nutrition does that suddenly kick in some sort of in instinct to just go where ever necessary to find something i mean because of sea temperature is it a the food that they normally feed on has moved somewhere and started the seed i'm pops of starving and they are cold that is why they are absolutely desperate that's just that's really heartbreaking each of tonight's stories showed problems with the environment but more importantly we got to meet some very smart folks trying to solve them that's it for today's episode be sure to check in so next time you're on tech.
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