King’s College London and University College London (UCL) scientists have announced a new way to retrieve fingerprints from ivory hacked and sold by poachers.
Developed in collaboration with the Metropolitan Police’s imaging and fingerprint experts, the new fingerprinting methods could be utilized to easily identify poachers in regions with high levels of ivory-related crime.
Ivory mainly comes from an elephant’s tusks. These are actually enamel coated massive teeth made up of dentine–a hard, dense, bony tissue–protruding well beyond their mouths.
The one reason why ivory is so highly prized is because of its unique beauty, durability, and suitability for carving.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), poachers kill about 20,000 elephants every single year for their tusks, which are then traded illegally in the international market to eventually end up as ivory trinkets.
To make matters worse, ivory is a highly porous and ridged material and this makes it extremely difficult to obtain fingerprints from it.
Fingerprinting has thus never been utilized on ivory despite it being one of the oldest, simplest and most cost-effective forensic tools.
The good news is that in recent years, newer powder materials have emerged for fingerprinting, composed of smaller particles, which allow for more detail to be observed as they adhere better to smaller amounts of fingermark residue left behind.
Taking advantage of this, the King’s College London and UCL team tested three types of powders on three seized elephant tusks loaned by the Metropolitan Police Service’s Wildlife Unit.
What they found out was that the newer reduced-size powders were able to provide clearer and usable fingerprint detail that is vital for identifying the donor.
According to the scientists, the clarity of ridge detail was found to be at its highest within seven days after the print was deposited, suggesting the method would work best in regions of the world that are closest to the sources of ivory.
“Our study has shown for the first time that these newer powders could potentially be used for identifying poachers, and are especially suited to rangers working in the field,” notes King’s senior lecturer and study author Dr Leon Barron.
Image and content: King’s College London