Trade in ivory has been illegal for 18 years now, but that has just given poachers and smugglers more time to improve their skills, says Samuel Wasser of the University of Washington, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

According to Wasser, more than 23,000 kilograms of elephant tusks were seized during the 12-month period ending in August 2006. Since Wasser also estimates that only 10 percent of this illegally smuggled ivory is found, this translates to more than 23,000 elephants slain in that same period.

At this rate, the Tony Sopranos of the world could soon drive the elephant into extinction in Africa.

Read more: 

• News story: Elephants 'facing African extinction'.

• PNAS paper: "Assigning African elephant DNA to geographic region of origin: Applications to the ivory trade"

Story by John Platt. This article originally appeared in Plenty in March 2007.

Copyright Environ Press 2007