As the slaughter of elephants for their ivory continues at its worst rate in decades, conservationists have enlisted an unlikely new weapon in the fight against poaching: Cold War-era nuclear bombs. Scientists have found that radioactive carbon left over from above-ground nuclear tests carried out between 1952 and 1962 makes it possible to determine the year of an animal's death and distinguish legal from illegal ivory, the BBC reports. Radiocarbon levels started to drop when tests were shifted to below ground.
The technique "would dovetail very nicely with DNA testing, which tells you the region of origin, but not the date," says the lead researcher, who hopes to win support for a plan to use radiocarbon testing to target poaching hotspots. "Saving elephants—majestic and wonderful species—is priceless," he says. "These wildlife forensics are ready to roll, now we need to speak to the organizations who can set up a program to make it happen." (Read more nuclear bomb stories.)