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Fighting wildlife crime with forensic techniques

Wildlife crime such as poaching is a worldwide problem - recent articles online have highlighted how forensic genetic testing can be used to help catch not only those who are carrying out the poaching but also those who buy the illegal materials. The article in the Guardian summarises how different projects have been implemented around the world to try to tackle this problem.

- A team has created a genetic database of ivory tusks, seized over an 18 year period. Through statistical matching of the genotypes of known elephant populations to 16 loci on the samples from seized tusks the team was able to show that most elephants were killed in just four areas of the African continent.

- Tiger populations have been mapped in Nepal and south-east Asia using genetic information  collected from scat. This has allowed rangers to know where the populations are and how they are related. This work has been a contributory factor to tiger numbers increasing for the first time in 100 years.

- A study using genetic markers from sharks has been able to demonstrate that even in places where shark fin soup is legal the soup contains illegally traded shark fins. This genetic data can be used in prosecutions around the world.

- In South Africa, the University of Pretoria has compiled a genetic database of DNA samples from black and white rhinos. This database can help match recovered rhino horn to individual rhinos and poached rhinos and has beenused to prosecute traffickers and poachers.

- The Gabon park system is compiling a database of poached elephant DNA that officials hope will be useful in prosecutions.

- Thailand announced a DNA registration system for all domesticated elephants so that they can be distinguished from their wild counterparts, which traders sometimes illegally pass off as those used for domestic purposes.

However for all these positives the first international survey of wildlife forensic capability paints a sobering picture. The report states that there is "still insufficient capacity for conducting wildlife forensic casework, particularly in regions with the greatest need for the identification of Cites-listed species in trade". 

To read more on this click here.

 

 

 

 

 

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