DeterTech’s SmartWater solution combats illegal ivory trade


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The fight against the illegal ivory trade in the Republic of Benin is being given a revolutionary new boost with SmartWater technology, reports DeterTech.

The innovative, untraceable solution is setting new standards in asset marking and is now tackling the challenge of tracing smuggled ivory that has been recovered, one of the most pressing concerns in wildlife conservation.

The illegal ivory trade presents law enforcement officers around the world with an enormous challenge.

The sophistication of organised crime syndicates often outweighs the capacity and resources of enforcement agencies, particularly in developing countries.

Ivory theft from government held stockpiles is a particular concern because it poses a very real threat.

In 2019 alone, over 42 tonnes of ivory were seized globally and in early 2023, Vietnamese officials seized over seven tonnes of ivory that had been smuggled from Angola and transited through Singapore.

In the Republic of Benin, home to some of the largest elephant herds in West Africa, the Benin government recognised the need to increase its ivory security.

Enhancing ivory security and traceability

For many years, the Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation (EPI) has worked to find a solution that would make it easier for governments to track stolen ivory back to its storeroom of origin.

When they came across SmartWater, a unique solution for marking valuable assets, developed by DeterTech, a UK-based security company, they recognised an opportunity to heighten ivory security and improve the traceability of stolen ivory and other wildlife stockpiles.

Speaking about SmartWater’s ability to trace smuggled ivory, a member of the EPI Foundation said: “SmartWater, DeterTech’s innovative technology, represents a significant advancement in the realm of wildlife conservation, particularly in the fight against ivory smuggling.

“By applying an undetectable, robust forensic marker to ivory, each piece becomes traceable back to its source, providing an unprecedented level of detail and evidence for law enforcement agencies.”

SmartWater is a forensic marking solution used by UK police to help combat theft.

It’s a chemical marker that is invisible to the naked eye and can be applied to valuable items, especially those that are at a high risk of theft.

Each SmartWater solution contains a unique combination of elements that provides near limitless permutations.

The marker is detected under ultraviolet light, and as part of the detection process, DeterTech’s fast and expert UKAS accredited laboratory services can link the marker to a single application.

This allows marked items to be traced to a specific source.

Tracing smuggled ivory in Benin

Recognising that DeterTech could help the Benin government, the EPI Foundation presented SmartWater and trained its personnel on its use.

In December 2023, the government of Benin began its pilot of this innovative solution.

The EPI Foundation then demonstrated SmartWater and its uses to the staff of the Direction Générale des Eaux, Forêts et Chasse (DGEFC). Beginning with a small set of ivory to test and prove the concept.

Following formal approval for its use, SmartWater was applied to the entire stock of ivory and other wildlife products in Benin’s central storeroom in January 2024.

All the products were removed from the storeroom and SmartWater was either brushed or sprayed on.

Once dried in the open air, a UV lamp was run over each product to ensure a sufficient coating of the forensic marking solution had adhered, the items were then moved back into the secure storeroom.

This is a big step forward for the Benin government. It provides them with traceability of stolen ivory so that if found, it can be returned to its rightful place.

Rich Harris, Director of Technical Services, DeterTech added: “The challenge of ivory smuggling is not just an environmental issue; it’s a complex, organised crime that threatens both wildlife and national security.

“In Benin, our collaboration with the EPI Foundation and the government marks a significant stride towards dismantling these syndicates.

“By integrating SmartWater’s traceability technology, we are enhancing our ability to track and prosecute the criminal networks behind the illegal ivory trade.”

“Set the pace”

Hazel Goss, Development Officer, Secured by Design concluded: “It’s wonderful to hear of the variety of applications of SmartWater at home and overseas.

“This forensic marking solution is widely adopted by UK law enforcement and it’s reassuring to know it is now being used to combat ivory theft, which is a significant problem.

“The collaboration between DeterTech, the Benin government and the EPI Foundation could set the pace for ivory security around the world.”

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