Forensics Expertise Brought to Train Scientists on Pangolin DNA to Help ID Smuggled Products

Workshop participants © Phuong Trang

Workshop participants © Phuong Trang

Pretoria, South Africa 4th July 2016—Scientists from Malaysia, Thailand, VietNam, Indonesia, South Korea, Australia and the United Kingdom as well as the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) law enforcement attaché for Southern Africa, last week visited the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG) to learn about the wildlife DNA casework being undertaken to help crack cases with international ramifications.

The need for international forensics collaboration was highlighted by the seizure the previous day of a staggering four tonnes of pangolin scales in Hong Kong, said to have been transported there from Cameroon.

“Forensic examination can provide valuable insights into such seizures, increasingly as techniques develop, providing information on their origin, and potentially uncovering incriminating evidence as to who was behind the shipment,” said Dr Ross McEwing, Technical Director of UK based TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network.

“Forensics experts have a small but vital role in the investigative process, but we must work collaboratively with likeminded counterparts from around the world to deliver the right forensic tools to support investigations and prosecutions.”

Pangolin scales © NZG

Pangolin scales © NZG

The meeting brought together wildlife forensic DNA scientists from South Africa with their counterparts from Southeast Asia and was funded by USAID through the Wildlife TRAPS Project and organized by TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network, NZG and TRAFFIC.

Professor Antoinette Kotze, Manager of Research & Scientific at NZG said “This was an exciting opportunity to engage with our colleagues from Asia to develop collaborative projects and showcase our government-supported wildlife DNA forensics facility here in Pretoria.”

Nick Ahlers from TRAFFIC said: “Promoting the use of wildlife forensic science is a priority output of the Wildlife TRAPS Project and meetings like this demonstrate how quickly dialogue between likeminded scientists and knowledge sharing can happen.” A key focus of the meeting was the illegal pangolin trade between Africa and Asia.

Dr Jeffrine Rovie from the National Wildlife Forensic Laboratory in Malaysia said: “Our laboratory has received many samples of confiscated pangolin parts, some of which DNA evidence indicates have originated from African species. There are obvious overlaps between our work in this area and the analysis of African pangolin parts undertaken here in the NZG laboratory: we each have relevant knowledge, which means sharing our joint expertise is absolutely invaluable for supporting international enforcement efforts.”


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