You don’t have to be a fan of police procedurals to know that DNA can be a key to solving crimes. But years ago, conservation biologist Sam Wasser was a pioneer in using DNA to link illegally harvested elephant tusks to their poachers. He and his colleagues have examined more than 100 tons of ivory since 2005, helping to trace its origins to specific places in east and west-central Africa.
Sometimes compassion takes people in unexpected directions. This biologist turned a love for animals into an international quest for justice.
Last fall, Dr. Wasser and his colleagues established the Center for Environmental Forensic Science at the University of Washington in Seattle. They’re coordinating efforts among local as well as national governments, universities, and nongovernmental organizations, marshaling their complementary skills to battle well-organized transnational criminals and the trafficking of contraband from timber to pangolins.
“I’ve long had the opinion that Sam deserves a Nobel Prize, but the Nobel Committee doesn’t give it to his type of work,” says Bill Clark, a longtime wildlife law enforcement official. “There’s a big void in recognizing people who contribute to the future of planet Earth.”