Rhino DNA project sees arrests

by jeeg 24. May 2012 23:43

A project to build a central DNA profile database for rhinos across Africa has seen 380 arrests and 25 prison sentences. The project is being run at the University of Pretoria's Faculty of Veterinary Science's Onderstepoort facility.


This is according to Dr Joseph Okori, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature's African Rhino Programme (ARP).

Dr Cindy Harper, who is in charge of establishing the database, known as RhODIS (rhino DNA index system), says it is being used to provide forensic evidence in poaching court cases.

Harper explains that the RhODIS database can be used to link horns to rhinos that have been poached. She explains that DNA samples taken from recovered horn can be matched to DNA samples from poached rhino carcasses and used as evidence for arrests and convictions.

According to Harper, five to 20 milligrams of horn is sufficient to compile a DNA profile. She adds that a DNA profile can also reveal whether the sample came from a male or female rhino, or whether it was from a black or white rhino.

Harper says the Onderstepoort's Veterinary Genetics Laboratory provides game reserves and game owners with forensic sample collection kits, which can be used to collect DNA samples from living and poached rhinos. The collection kits were developed in collaboration with the South African Police Service's forensic laboratory, the National Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit and SANParks.

Harper says the database currently contains DNA information on about 3 000 rhinos from SA as well as Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. She adds that RhODIS is based on the same principles as the Combined DNA Index System, which is used by the FBI for forensic investigations.

Konica Minolta SA says it has donated more than R500 000 over the past six months to the World Wide Fund for Nature's rhino conservation work. According to the company, it will continue its pledge to contribute R100 for every bizhub multifunctional device sold over 2012.

Harper stresses that the programme is incredibly costly to run. She says the machinery used to compile a DNA profile is expensive, with some costing in excess of R2 million.

Tessa Reed, IT Web


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