Elephant conservationist to speak Nov. 7

UW professor Wasser uses DNA to track illegal ivory.

  • Friday, October 19, 2018 12:25pm
  • Life

University of Washington biology professor Sam Wasser will be speaking in November to the Mercer Island Probus Club about his pioneering research in elephant DNA and efforts to combat ivory trafficking worldwide. Wasser holds the endowed chair at the Center for Conservation Biology at UW, and he is the 2018 Albert Schweitzer Medal award winner. The Schweitzer Medal is presented annually to a person who exhibits outstanding achievement in the advancement of animal welfare.

Wasser’s Center for Conservation Biology uses DNA research of wildlife to document the abundance, distribution and physiological condition of many forms of wildlife including wolves, orca, bears, deer, elk, cougar, moose, caribou and African elephants.

Wasser became especially interested in elephant populations after traveling to Africa when he was 19 years old. Some 40,000 elephants are killed each year for their ivory which is poached and distributed illegally across the world. Wasser has made it his life’s mission to develop and apply non-invasive methods to uncover human impacts on wildlife and offer solutions for change.

Using dung samples collected across Africa of forest and savannah elephants, Wasser tracks elephant DNA. The results are mapped for country or area of origin. He then works with international groups who provide his lab with ivory samples from illegally poached ivory recovered from international ivory trafficking. By comparing the ivory DNA with dung sample DNA, he can pinpoint geographic origin and hotspots for ivory poaching.

His work has led to prosecution of major transnational ivory traffickers and involves collaborating with international agencies such as INTERPOL, the Consortium for Combating Wildlife Crime and the Task Force for Combating Wildlife Trafficking.

Wasser will be speaking on Wednesday, Nov. 7 from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Mercer Island Presbyterian Church (3605 84th Ave. SE). The community is welcome to attend.

The Probus Club of Mercer Island is a group of retired people with professional and business backgrounds who aim to stay connected and continue to learn. The club meets monthly for socialization and to hear guest speakers present a program of interest.

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