R25 million funding to strengthen forensic war against rhino poachers

A close-up view of a rhino.


South Africa welcomed the Global Environment Facility's (GEF) R25 million funding towards strengthening the current wildlife forensic capabilities in South Africa to combat wildlife crimes, specifically rhino poaching.

The funding will be used to enhance activities such as the ground-breaking DNA profiling, data kits and the RhODIS™ database.

South Africa is home to about 93 percent of the world's rhino population, of which 12 000 roam the Kruger National Park (KNP). The South African population is one of the last viable rhino populations in the world which makes it vulnerable. It is also the remaining hope for the world in terms of rhino conservation.

Advances in the field of science have made it possible to use DNA analysis for the examination of evidence in legal cases. The department of environmental affairs intends to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Pretoria, developers of DNA toolkits and RhODIS™ database, to strengthen the defence against the rhino poaching onslaught.

This will be in tandem with the norms and standards for the marking of rhinoceros horn and the hunting of white rhino for trophy hunting purposes.

The funding comes two months after the gazetting of revised norms and standards in terms of which DNA samples are to be taken of live rhinoceros when translocated. The norms and standards further prescribe that DNA samples are collected from a hunted animal and the hunting trophy, including the horns, to verify the legality of the hunt. The bona fide status of the hunting client and specifications in terms of horn identification and microchipping, are also addressed by the revised norms and standards.

When DNA samples are taken, the norms and standards specify that samples of the horns and blood must be collected by using the RhODIS™ DNA kits provided by the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory. Samples may only be collected by either a registered veterinarian responsible for the darting of live rhinoceros, an official from the issuing authority trained in the collection of samples or the official or environmental management inspector who attended the hunt and is trained in the collection of samples.

The samples would then be sent to the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory of the Faculty of Veterinary Science of the University of Pretoria for analysis for the purpose of DNA profiling and incorporation into the RhODIS(tm) database.

A South African government delegation will visit Hong Kong to take DNA samples of the rhino horns confiscated by the Hong Kong authorities late last year. The DNA will be taken on these horns and matched with the samples in the RhODIS(tm) database. Matches between these recovered horns and the RhODIS(tm) database may provide evidence that could be used in further prosecutions.

"The South African government would like to urge all Non Government Organisations and organisations involved in fighting rhino poaching to continue working together with law enforcement agencies and research institutions to utilise science based evidence for the conviction of alleged poachers," says Abe Modise, spokesperson for the department.

On 14 November 2011, Hong Kong Customs intercepted 33 pieces of rhino horn and worked ivory concealed in a 40 inch container which was declared as 2 scrap plastic in 63 packages. The rhino horns and worked ivory were seized for investigation. There were 33 pieces (86.54kg) of rhino horn, 127 pieces (9.2kg) of ivory bracelets and 759 pieces (13.22kg) of ivory chopstick in the consignment which were transported by sea from Cape Town. This is the biggest consignment of illegally traded rhino horn originating from South Africa which has been seized outside of South Africa and any information that can be obtained will be used to facilitate the arrest of the perpetrators.



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