Tusks are extremely helpful when you’re an African elephant. You can use them to scrape tasty bark off trees or to dig for water underground. If a lion attacks your calf, you can use your tusks to fight it off.
Unfortunately, some people value tusks too. Every year, as many as 40,000 African elephants are poached, or hunted illegally, for their tusks. Poachers sell the tusks to be carved into jewelry and other objects.
Samuel Wasser has seen this problem firsthand. He’s a biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. In the 1980s, he was studying monkeys in eastern Africa. He kept finding elephants that poachers had killed. “I realized I needed to shift what I do,” says Wasser.
Since then, Wasser has been studying African elephants. What he learns is helping authorities track down poachers.