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Defining Differences In Ivory, Science Of Tagging Fish
California Outdoors 12-13-23
CO Ivory 12-13
This California Department of Fish and Wildlife photo shows samples of ivory from a number of different species.

Ivory Trafficking

Q: How do wildlife officers tell the difference between elephant ivory and other animals that have ivory such as whales or even warthogs?

A: In a forensics lab! When Assembly Bill 96 was signed (now Fish and Game Code section 2022), it made the commercialization of ivory and rhinoceros horn illegal in California, with limited exceptions. Passage of AB 96 prompted a number of dedicated wildlife officers, legal staff, and a wildlife forensic specialist to work on issues related to the illegal trade of ivory and rhinoceros horn. The law also created funding to support the creation of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Genetics Research Laboratory.

The laboratory staff are federally certified in the morphological or structural identification of ivory using physical and chemical characteristics. Forensic specialists utilize these techniques to compare against a database of known ivory specimens (tusks and teeth) from ivory-bearing species as well as synthetic ivory items (bones, plastics, resins, etc.) to help identify suspected ivory items.

Since the passing of AB 96, CDFW’s wildlife forensic scientists have become recognized worldwide as experts in ivory identification and even helped to provide training and identification kits for other state, federal and national governments.


Tagging of Hatchery Fish

Q: What’s the purpose of putting tags in salmon that are released from hatcheries?

A: CDFW implants millions of fish each year with tiny metal tags engraved with codes indicating when and from which hatchery a fish was released into the wild. When the salmon return to their release location a few years later, CDFW scientists collect that important information.

The fish are about five months old, living and growing in a hatchery raceway, when they’re brought in for tagging. The adipose fin on the fish (between the dorsal fin and tail fin) is also clipped, which is a visual indicator of which fish have the metal tags, and which ones do not.

The tagging happens at several CDFW hatcheries each year. At the Nimbus Fish Hatchery, east of Sacramento, about a million fish are tagged annually. The fish are about three inches in length when tagged. At roughly the six-month mark, the fish are released.

CDFW Interpretive Services Supervisor Laura Drath explained the importance of tagging salmon.

“The information on the Coded Wire Tag allows us to assess the success of our practices,” said Drath. “We’re seeing not only how many hatchery-bred fish are returning, but also which of our release sites are most successful.”

The information retrieved from the tags helps CDFW monitor and adjust management techniques if needed. If a release site is not yielding a good return, that site may not be used in the future. CDFW’s goal is to keep the fish population sustainable by using these tools and strategies.


Riverside County Sheep Barrier

Q: Is there an update on the fence construction project meant to keep bighorn sheep out of the community of La Quinta?

A: CDFW is working alongside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Coachella Valley Conservation Commission on the construction of about two and a half miles of fencing between the city of La Quinta and the Santa Rosa mountains, in Riverside County. Peninsular bighorn sheep are federally endangered under the Endangered Species Act and are a fully protected species under California Fish and Game Code 4700.

The Peninsular Bighorn Sheep Barrier Project is meant to protect bighorn sheep from hazards of the urban environment in the La Quinta area. The fence will reduce the chances for a bighorn sheep to drown in residential pools or in canals, restrict access to roadways where they have been injured and killed by vehicle strikes and make it less likely that the sheep ingest toxins from decorative plantings.

The goal for the fence once completed is to encourage bighorn sheep to return to the desert slopes that are their natural habitat. Peninsular bighorn sheep have adapted over thousands of years to forage for desert plants and survive dry climates.

In mid-November, CDFW conducted a capture and collar event in which seven sheep were equipped with GPS collars and then released in the same area they were captured. Information gathered from the collars will assist CDFW biologists in tracking herd movement and behavior, as barrier construction continues.

The planning for the barrier began in 2014, with construction expected to be completed in 2024.