Despite increased awareness and activism seeking to protect wildlife, most illegal ivory likely comes from elephants that were killed by poachers in recent years, a new study has found.

Published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study found that poaching still poses a severe threat to elephants, whose numbers continue to decline. While ivory bans in the US and Europe and a widespread push to protect endangered species have helped to curtail its distribution there, ivory remains popular and profitable in Southeast Asia, which has seen an economic boost that has ushered in a competitive market.

“There’s been a staggering rate of elephant loss every year,” Thure Cerling, a geochemist at the University of Utah and lead author of the study, told The Los Angeles Times. “Some people were saying, well, we don’t need to worry so much because there’s big stockpiles of ivory, so we’re getting legacy ivory into the market … and other people were saying, no, no, no, these are all recent deaths.”

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