Thursday, April 28, 2011
Elephant Ivory Project Update: Samples In Hand, Team Heads For Home
It has been a couple of weeks since we had any kind of update on the Elephant Ivory Project, the expedition that is being conducted by Trip Jennings and Andy Maser, who are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in an effort to put a halt to the illegal ivory trade. Trip and Andy went to the Congo to venture deep into the bush, where they hoped to collect plenty of samples of elephant dung that they could use to build a "DNA map" of the region. That map could hold the key to shutting down poachers, as DNA samples could potentially allow us to trace the ivory trade route.
When we last checked in with the boys, there were having a hard time finding the samples they were looking for. They team had ventured deep into the jungle, and while they found evidence that elephants had been in the area at one time, there were no recent signs of the herds. Fortunately, a second team had managed to collect five samples from distinct elephant families, but at that point, Trip and Andy hadn't collected anything yet.
In their latest update however, it seems things have changed. While it was indeed looking grim for a time, the two young explorers, with the help of the chief a local tribe, managed to track down some elephants and collect some dung themselves. In fact, at one point, they had more opportunities to collect samples than they could handle, passing up on some to ensure that they were getting unique DNA for their project. With these new samples, along with ongoing collections from the other team, Trip and Andy now have enough DNA to begin the next phase of their project.
But, there is still one major hurdle to get over before they can move on, and that is getting those samples back to the U.S. Apparently they have all the paperwork they need to bring them through U.S. customs, but getting them out of the DNC and into Rwanda, where they catch their flight home, could still be an adventure.
If you haven't been following this project, than I'd urge you to take a look at the team's journal. Even if you couldn't care less about protecting the elephants (You should care!), the reports from the field are pretty eye opening. They really do give an interesting perspective on what it is like to live in remote and rural sections of Africa, where bandits still roam the countryside and governments struggle to maintain order. The occasional cholera breakout can't be good either. It is a real look at how many developing nations are struggling to move forward into the 21st century.
[Photo courtesy of the Elephant Ivory Project]