Sunday Times (UK)
The darkened rooms used by Scotland Yard’s forensics experts are a stark contrast to the dusty plains of the Great Rift Valley. But technology designed in its pristine laboratories is being used thousands of miles away to protect Africa’s elephants from poachers.
An award-winning and cost-effective kit developed by the Met’s forensics specialists has been donated to several countries leading the fight against poachers who are killing up to 100 elephants every day.
A problem for authorities trying to tackle the illegal trade in elephant tusks is that ivory is highly porous. It quickly absorbs the grease, sweat and other liquids to which fingerprinting dust would commonly stick to show a print.
Mark Moseley, 45, a forensics specialist for the Met Police, decided to tackle this after he was challenged by his children. “My two daughters asked if I could help save the elephants — a lot was going on with animals being killed at the time,” he said.
Working to develop the technology in his own time, in conjunction with King’s College London, he designed a kit that uses magnetic particles much smaller than the dust traditionally used in fingerprinting kits. This allows the detection of fingerprints on ivory for about a month after contact, a big improvement. “The previous best was four days,” Mr Moseley said.
The kit uses magnetic particles which can easily be cleaned with a magnet, helping to avoid waste.
Kenyan authorities have been using the equipment, paid for by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), to gather intelligence by deploying it in the field and at international airports.
Used in conjunction with anti-poaching efforts, the kit has played a part in at least four cases this year, resulting in 15 arrests, including five allegedly corrupt police officers. As a result, 11 elephant tusks and 50 pieces of worked ivory have been seized.
In October, Mr Moseley was given a special award by the animal welfare organisation at an event held at the House of Lords.
An African elephant is slaughtered every 25 minutes for its ivory. A report this year by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency found that the UK is the world’s largest exporter of legal ivory, with 36,135 items traded in the five years to 2015, including more than 13,000 to China and Hong Kong.
That compared with the US in second place, which traded just 9,824. There are widespread fears that poaching gangs use loopholes in UK regulations to trade in illegal ivory.
Senior figures including Prince William have made repeated calls to put a blanket ban on all sales of ivory in the UK. Writing in The Times today, Boris Johnson says that the government will act on plans for a British ban on domestic ivory sales this year. “I would never want the children of the future to ask, ‘Why did you not do more to save the elephant?’,” he writes. This month his father, Stanley Johnson, wrote that the government should “close down the domestic ivory market and end a bloody trade that shames us all”.
In October, Michael Gove, the environment secretary, announced plans to toughen regulations on the ivory trade but stopped short of the Tory manifesto pledges in 2010 and 2015 to “press for a total ban on ivory sales”.
China, by far the biggest consumer of illegal ivory, has promised to close its domestic market from December 31, though it remains to be seen how this will be implemented.
On the trail of ivory traders
• 110,000 African elephants were killed from 2006 to 2015, and their population has fallen by 20 per cent in the past decade
• Of 2,853 wildlife products seized coming into the UK from 2009 to 2014, 1,165 were ivory.
• A snap survey of 13 antiques markets in London and six online auction sites found more than 5,200 ivory pieces for sale in April last year.
What’s in the briefcase
1 Laminated guide to using the kit
2 A retractable magnet that applies magnetic micro-particles to the ivory and brushes away the excess
3 Lifting tape, which is used for copying the fingerprints
4 Roller for transferring the prints to slides
5 Magnifying glass to examine the prints
6 Pot containing the magnetic micro-particles