DNA to fight rhino poaching
Skukuza - The fight against rhino poaching has gone hi-tech following the donation of 1 000 DNA kits to the Kruger National Park (KNP).
Park spokesperson William Mabasa said the DNA Rhino Sample kits, which were handed over by the Faculty of Veterinary Science of the University of Pretoria last week, would help prosecutors secure convictions of people arrested for possession of rhino horns.
"At the moment, when we arrest a person with a rhino horn, we are unable to prove that the person killed a rhino and dehorned it," said Mabasa.
"The kits will certainly change the trend of suspects found in possession of rhino horn only being charged with possession. The horns in their possession will be linked to a carcass lying somewhere in a national park or game reserve," he explained.
Mabasa said the ability to obtain a full DNA profile from a rhino horn would allow investigators to match recovered horns to specific poaching incidents.
"When the rangers come across with a carcass they will take its DNA sample and store it in order to link it with horns that are being seized by law enforcers," he said.
He said rangers could also use the device to capture the date on which a particular rhino was killed and dehorned.
Chief executive of South African National Parks, David Mabunda, said the donation would go a long way in ensuring management of the rhino population.
"Throughout the years, DNA evidence has ensured that criminal elements were locked up as the analysis of information collected proved to be the only working weapon to halt criminals in their tracks," said Mabunda.
He said technology was the answer to the Kruger's poaching problem.
"The scourge of rhino poaching we are faced with needs sophisticated equipment. Technology is needed to resolve the problems in a national par," he said.
According to SANParks, there are 22 000 rhino in the country. In 2010, 333 rhino were killed in South Africa. In 2009, 122 rhino were killed in the country, compared to only 13 that were poached in 2007.
More than 159 rhino have been killed in the Kruger this year alone while a total of 124 suspected rhino poachers were arrested around the country, of which 62 were arrested in the KNP.
Dr Cindy Harper, head of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Pretoria, reiterated that the primary aim of the project was to support the investigation of poaching incidents through forensic DNA testing.
The University of Pretoria is not the only institution that supports the DNA Rhino Sample kits project, but also a host of other partners, including SAB Miller, BMW, 702 Talk Radio through its LeadSA Campaign.