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US National Wildlife Forensics Lab in Oregon moves to destroy cache of seized ivory

A cache of contraband elephant tusks and ivory carvings kept at a federal wildlife forensics laboratory in Oregon will be ground into dust to make sure the pieces are never sold, a newspaper reported Monday.

The U.S. National Wildlife Forensics Laboratory will keep three elephant tusks and a piece of another for research and some carved pieces for displays, director Ken Goddard told The Ashland Daily Tidings (http://bit.ly/1e4cPQ2).

Goddard said 75 tusks were shipped last month to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service central evidence repository outside Denver to be ground up as part of a worldwide effort to fight elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade.

Though the lab regularly sends carved ivory to museums for display, it rarely gives out tusks, Goddard said.

"They are too valuable and too easily stolen," he said.

The illegal wildlife trade is a $19 billion a year enterprise, with elephant ivory fetching up to $100,000 apiece, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Laboratory analysis of one lot of 18 tusks that Interpol seized in Singapore in 2007 did not trace the tusks to the original poachers, or the country of origin, but did paint a picture of the illegal trade, Goddard said.

Bullet marks showed the animals had been shot from above, probably from a military helicopter, Goddard said. Hatchet marks showed the tusks had been crudely cut from the elephants. Dirt residue showed the items had been buried.

Analysis of pollen and insect and plant parts narrowed the country of origin to three or four but weren't conclusive. Fingerprints found on the tusks were never matched to people.

Goddard said officials opened the trunk in the lab's isolation room in case it was contaminated with anthrax. There was no anthrax, but a tiny red spider hopped out, which might have been venomous. It was sent to a lab in London for identification but officials never heard back.

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Information from: The Ashland Daily Tidings, http://www.dailytidings.com

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