Crime Scene DNA in Reverse – Using Genetics of Wild Animals to Hunt Down Poachers
Hunting down poachers using genetic data from animals is a cool new use of genetic data; the idea arose from some creative thinking. The strategy is outlined in a Janaury 9, 2018 NYT article by Gina Kolata. An excerpt is below.
“[The poacher had] jumped bail and fled to northern Pretoria, but it was vexingly difficult to catch and prosecute him — until a scientist helped make the case against him with rhino DNA.
His subsequent conviction resulted from a new tactic in wildlife preservation: The genetic fingerprinting methods that have been so successful in the criminal justice system are now being used to solve poaching crimes.
First, researchers in South Africa had to build a large database of genetic samples drawn from African rhinoceroses. The DNA would be used to match a carcass to a particular horn discovered on a suspected poacher or trafficker, or to rhinoceros blood on his clothes, knives or axes.
To make that possible, Dr. Cindy Harper, a veterinarian at the University of Pretoria, and her colleagues collected DNA from every rhinoceros they could find — more than 20,000 so far. They have taught park rangers how to retrieve blood, tissue or hair samples from every rhinoceros that is killed, dehorned or moved.”