DNA kits to convict rhino poachers

2011-02-03 21:28

Mbombela - A rhino DNA sample kit is expected to help prosecutors be even tougher on those caught with rhino horns.

If DNA tests positively link a horn to a specific rhino carcass, suspects will no longer get away with only a charge of possession.

They will also be charged with the illegal hunting of rhino and theft.

“DNA evidence can now be used to link suspects found in possession of horns with the actual carcass, irrespective of how much time has passed," said Advocate Johan Kruger, national head of the Organised Crime component in the office of the national director of public prosecutions.

“This should change the trend of suspects found in possession of rhino horn only being charged with possession.”

Chief executive of South African National Parks (SANParks) David Mabunda said the kit would also assist all rhino owners and managers to document individual rhinos in their care.

'Better protect our rhinos'

“We would like to encourage them to take full advantage of this opportunity so that we may be able to better protect our rhinos from criminals," he said.

He said information gathered from the DNA samples would be stored on a central database accessible to registered professionals.

A full DNA sample is estimated to cost about R1 680 per rhino, but Mabunda said initial DNA tests and registration would be done free of charge.

"This will also be freely available in the unfortunate case of a rhino poaching incident," he said.

The department of genetics at Onderstepoort developed the DNA kit in collaboration with SANParks, the NPA and the Hawks.

The DNA kit was revealed to members of the National Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit from the NPA, Hawks, SANParks and environmental management investigators from provincial conservation authorities who recently attended a crime scene management course.

'Leave no stone unturned'

The course provided prosecutors with first hand experience of the challenges investigators face in securing and safe-guarding a scene in the veld.

They also learned the methods used to search for, locate and collect specific evidence material on a scene.

Mabunda said SANParks and private funders were funding the DNA project.
He said SANParks would use funds from ivory sales in 2009 to contribute to the project. South African Breweries has also already sponsored R100 000 towards the project.

No date has been set on when the DNA kits will start being used.

Mabunda said last month alone South Africa lost 21 rhinos, while 31 arrests were made.

In 2010, 333 rhinos were killed.

“The loss of 333 rhinos to poaching in 2010 was a devastating loss for SANParks. We are determined to curb that in 2011. Anyone who is involved in poaching at whatever level will be a prime target for our investigations and we will leave no stone unturned in this respect, including going for the kingpins of these operations,” said Mabunda.

  • CPII - 2011-02-03 21:49

    Time to get them together and protect them......and SHOOT first and then ask questions. If you don't, they'll be gone in 3 to 5 years......and, No licenses to have animals shot WHATSOEVER!

  • ejasmith - 2011-02-05 07:21

    Why the human cannot accept that other things in Nature has life is beyond me! There is something wrong with your mind if you think that an animal has to be shot for sport or for its horns or skin! For a modern world the human race is really 'backward'! I say take their guns from them, hunt them down with choppers and guns shooting at their running tails until they fall at the claw of the Lion. Nature is good at cleaning up. No trace afterwards but a few bones that even the hyena would not touch! Be merciless!

  • markings - 2011-02-05 08:23

    Couldn't the rhinos be equipped with tracker devices and "vital sign" monitors? As soon as the vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure, etc) go out of normal range the rangers can go an check what is going on.

      Johan Genade - 2011-02-12 08:25

      good idea! where do you put/attach/fasten it to the rhino? Collars - the rhino's anatomy don't allow it; holes in the horns - they fall out. If you know of technology that exists and can work in practice, pls let me know. johan at amukalodge dot com.

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