Wildlife experts trained in rhino forensics

7 November 2013

African and East Asian wildlife experts gathered for a workshop in South Africa on Monday to be trained in the identification of rhinoceros horns, DNA sampling of horns and wildlife crime scene investigation.

Law enforcement officers from South African National Parks, all 11 African rhino range countries, as well as from China, Thailand and Vietnam participated in the two-day workshop in Limpopo province.

The workshop was hosted by Department of Environmental Affairs and the University of Pretoria’s Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, in collaboration with the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC).

The workshop included training in specific investigative techniques and use of forensics, specifically for follow-up actions when seizures are made, crime scenes investigated, information gathered or evidence presented in court. Participants were taught how to collect samples from animals that had already been poached.

Also introduced at the workshop was the recently developed eRhODIS mobile application, which will provide the information technology backbone to support the Rhino DNA Index System (RhODIS).

RhODIS was developed by University of Pretoria’s Veterinary Genetics Laboratory to help tackle rhino poaching and horn smuggling by creating a database of DNA samples of all live and poached rhinoceros across the country, as well as of all stockpiled horns.

The database presently includes over 10 000 samples from black and white rhino collected over the last three years from all over Africa. According to the RhODIS project website, these have provided forensic evidence leading to a number of successful prosecutions.

Workshop participants were also taught how to use the ICCWC’s analytic toolkit, a technical resource in the fight against illegal trade in wildlife, to enhance their investigation capabilities.

The deputy director-general of biodiversity and conservation in the Department of Environmental Affairs, Fundisile Mketeni, said that South Africa welcomed the hosting of workshop, since the country was most seriously affected by rhino poaching.

“This workshop supports the decision by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora at the 16th Conference of Parties in Thailand in March 2013 that all range states, transit and consumer states should strengthen compliance and enforcement,” said Mketeni.

SAnews.gov.za and SAinfo reporter