28 June 2011
South African National Parks (SanParks) last week received 1 000 DNA kits from the University of Pretoria to ensure effective prosecution of rhino poachers.
According to SanParks, the kits from the faculty of Veterinary Services of the University of Pretoria will go a long way in ensuring management of the rhino population and effective prosecution of rhino horn poachers.
Speaking at the handover ceremony in Pretoria, SANParks CEO David Mabunda said that, throughout the years, DNA evidence had ensured that criminals were locked up as the analysis of information collected proved to be the only working weapon that could be disputed to halt criminals in their tracks.
“This will certainly go a long way in changing the trend of suspects found in possession of rhino horn only being charged with possession as the horns in their possession will be linked to a carcass lying somewhere in a national park or game reserve,” he said.
According to Mabunda, the kits would also assist rhino managers with the individual rhino in their care: “The scourge of rhino poaching we are faced with needs sophisticated equipment. Technology is needed to resolve the problems in a national park,” he said, adding that the fight against rhino poaching was everyone’s business.
“If we all stand together, we stand a good chance of winning.”
Mabunda said the kits are expected to help prosecutors to be tougher on those caught in possession of rhino horns.
According to Mabunda, there are 22 000 rhinos in the country. SANParks has lost 333 rhinos. To date, 122 suspects have been arrested for rhino poaching.
Cindy Harper, head of the veterinary genetics laboratory at the faculty of veterinary science at the University of Pretoria, said the primary aim of the project was to support investigation of poaching incidents through forensic DNA testing.
“The ability to obtain a full DNA profile from rhino horn allows us to match recovered horns to specific poaching incidents,” she said.
The DNA Rhino Sample kits project is supported by a host of private sector companies including SAB Miller, BMW, 702 Talk Radio through its LeadSA Campaign, and the University of Pretoria’s faculty of veterinary science.