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There's always some carbon-14 in the atmosphere, but during the Cold War, aboveground nuclear tests doubled the amount of carbon-14 in the environment.Plants incorporate carbon into their roots, stems and leaves as they grow.

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The technique looks at the radioactive carbon in the ivory, which elephants—and every other living creature on earth—incorporated into their bodies in unusually high levels during the Cold War era.

The carbon tells scientists whether a piece of ivory comes from an elephant that died before or after the United Nations banned products made from elephant parts in 1989.

Central African forest elephant populations decreased by 62% from 2002 to 2011 (5).

Forest elephants are particularly vulnerable to poaching because of their slow population growth rates compared with their savanna counterparts (6).

We found only one specimen of the 231 analyzed to have a lag time longer than 6 y.

Patterns of trade differ by regions: East African ivory, based on genetic assignments of geographic origin, has a much higher fraction of “rapid” transit than ivory originating in the Tridom region of Cameroon–Gabon–Congo.Uno worked on the tool as a graduate student at the University of Utah and is now a researcher at Columbia.In spite of the international ban, poachers kill about 25,000 elephants each year, according to the conservation groups.Savanna elephants have also experienced massive population declines, particularly in Tanzania and northern Mozambique.The savanna elephant population in the Selous Wildlife Reserve in Tanzania saw a 66% decline from 2009 to 2013 (7).That Scientific American article described a DNA tool for tracing the country of origin of ivory.

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