Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Potential Forensic Breakthrough Against Poaching

credit: Susannah Ireland
Scientists in Scotland have announced that for the first time human DNA in trace amounts have been isolated from an animal carcass. Illegal hunting of endangered animals is a huge worldwide problem, contributing to the disastrous decline in population of iconic species that have body parts wanted by humans. Stopping or even reducing poaching is a difficult law enforcement task complicated by wild terrain, clever poachers, and lack of evidence connecting individuals to a crime. University of Strathclyde Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry has developed a method of detecting low levels of human DNA from a carcass, thus increasing chances that an individual poacher can be identified. Scientists looked for traces of DNA from volunteers who had participated in the annual cull of deer in Scotland. The chances of a DNA profile detected by the method being randomly found within a human population are less than one in a billion making the test very reliable. Research was funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, British Association for Shooting & Conservation and the British Deer Society. The research paper describing the method is published in the journal, "Science and Justice".

credit: AFP
The method was developed to aid Scottish police track down deer poachers, but could be applied anywhere in the world where there are protected animals suffering from illegal human predation, such as South Africa where organized rhino poaching for horn is at the highest levels in 16 years. South Africa lost a record 333 rhinoceros to poachers last year, triple the number of deaths in 2009. This year already 309 rhinos have been killed {"rhinos"}. The crises prompted the South African government to call out the army to help rangers protect rhinos and to send the message the government is serious about ending the illegal trade. A serial poacher "Lucky" Maseko was shot and killed by Swaziland police recently. Two other rhino poachers were also killed by Swaziland police. Maseko was wanted in South Africa for attempted murder and environmental crimes including the death of ten rhinos.