Up to 2016, tusks were coming from elephants primarily from northern Mozambique north through Tanzania up to southern Kenya, Wasser said. Around 2016, there was a significant increase in tusks poached from a region twice the size of Britain called the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area that includes northern Botswana, northeastern Namibia, southern Zambia and southeastern Angola, Wasser said.
This area is home to 230,000 of the remaining 400,000 African elephants, a population that includes two separate species - savanna and forest elephants. The study did not involve the world's third elephant species, the Asian elephant.
"We are losing as many as 50,000 African elephants per year," said Wasser, co-executive director of his university's Centre for Environmental Forensic Science.
Special Agent John Brown, a US department of homeland security criminal investigator and study co-author, said DNA forensic analysis has provided a road map for multinational collaborative investigations.
"It helps us engage with our international law enforcement counterparts by alerting them to the connections between individual seizures," Brown said.
Wasser said that efforts made by law enforcement to connect one ivory seizure to others currently are rare, leaving cartels able to continue operating and rendering individual prosecutions "highly vulnerable to sabotage by corrupt individuals in places of power."