DNA evidence is putting rhino poachers behind bars

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In South Africa, researchers from the University of Pretoria and Russia-based St. Petersburg State University are using DNA evidence to successfully link rhinoceros horns seized from poachers and traffickers in various countries directly to the specific crime scenes where rhinoceros carcasses were left behind. Their Rhino DNA Index System includes a chain-of-custody-compliant biosampling kit and sampling methodology. It has already been used in more than 5,800 forensic cases with links made between recovered horns, blood-stained evidence items, and specific rhinoceros carcasses in more than120 cases.

“Unlike similar work in which genetic databases provide an indication of geographic provenance, RhODIS provides individual matches that, similar to human DNA profiling, is used as direct evidence in criminal court cases,” Cindy Harper of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of Pretoria in South Africa said in the press release.

Black and white rhinoceros are listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as endangered and near threatened, respectively. The new report comes at a time when poaching incidents have seen an uptick after decades of progress. In South Africa, rhinoceros poaching incidents increased from 13 in 2007 to 1,215 in 2014. In the last 10 years, more than 7,000 African rhinoceros have been hunted and killed illegally.