POACHERS could be caught out thanks to a Scots-led study on wild elephants, it is claimed.

Scientists from Stirling University worked with conservation programmes in Tanzania to measure the health of the country’s elephant population.

They used the “quick and cost-effective” method known as rapid demographic assessment (RDA) to count the herbivores, revealing serious pressures on groups in the south and west of the country.

The work marks the first time RDA has been used on a national scale and the approach has now been adopted by the Tanzanian government. It is hoped that other countries will follow suit to make conservation efforts more efficient and disrupt the illegal ivory trade.

Dr Rocio Pozo of Stirling’s Biological and Environmental Sciences department said: “This helps managers to prioritise protection resources to save elephants for future generations.

“We are delighted to hear that Tanzanian government scientists have adopted this methodology as a tool for assessing health of elephant populations.”

Colleague Josephine Smit added: “We hope elephant experts and government research institutes in other countries can apply the RDA method for monitoring populations. This approach will hopefully help to show signs of recovery of elephant populations in the coming years.”

The news comes one day after it emerged that one of the world’s leading investigators into the black market trade has been killed in Kenya. US citizen Esmond Bradley Martin, 75, was found in his home in Nairobi on Sunday. He had a stab wound to his neck and police believe the killing happened in a bungled robbery. Investigations continue and Martin was writing up research from a recent trip to Myanmar at the time of his death.

In Tanzania, the Stirling team assessed the sex, age and group structure of six key elephant populations.

Dr Jeremy Cusack said: “Populations in the north of Tanzania, such as the Serengeti and Tarangire, had healthy population structures. They benefit from adequate resources for protection and tourism.

“However, populations in Tanzania’s less-visited and under-resourced southern protected areas had altered age structures, with fewer calves and old individuals.

“There were also fewer adult males relative to the number of adult females, and a lower number of dependent individuals per adult female.

“We also found that poached populations had a much higher proportion of tuskless individuals, at more than six per cent. These characteristics are signatures of poaching for the ivory trade which has affected Tanzania’s western and southern elephant populations to a much greater extent than the northern populations.

“It will take many years and, in some cases, decades of security and stability to heal and return to a healthy and normally functioning population structure.”