Kenya set to adopt animal DNA tracing plan in poaching battle

What you need to know:

  • The Barcode Wildlife Project plans to create a public, free-for-use reference library of DNA for 2,000 endangered species.

Kenya has begun a process which could see it adopt the DNA barcoding technology to be used in war on poaching.

This follows a partnership with Tanzania and a US based university to source for DNA for 200 species of birds and animals highly targeted by poachers for commercial purposes.

The Barcode Wildlife Project plans to create a public, free-for-use reference library of DNA for 2,000 endangered species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and 8,000 closely related and look-alike species.

Proponents of the project say it will assist partner countries to formally adopt and implement DNA barcoding as a sustainable tool for law enforcement.

DNA barcoding is a technique developed by Prof Paul Hebert of the University of Guelph in Canada. He is credited with identifying species using a short, standardised gene sequence.

Game trophies

The partnership between the National Museums of Kenya, Kenya Wildlife Service, International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), Kenya Forest Service, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania and the Smithsonian Institution will implement the project.

The teams, funded by USAID PEER, are sourcing for blood, tissue, skin, hair and faecal animal samples collected during routine checks from conservancies, bird sanctuaries, rehabilitation centres and National Parks in Kenya and Tanzania to establish the region’s first DNA barcodes reference library.

Researchers will eventually be able to prove that confiscated game trophies such as live insects and animals were sourced from Kenya or Tanzania and identify the exact location where the exhibits were sourced.

The DNA evidence is required to ensure 100 per cent conviction against poachers most of who commit offences under the cover of darkness and during heavy rains.

The project is currently being implemented in Mexico, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Nepal and Ecuador where joint teams comprising researchers, law enforcers and prosecutors have partnered to strengthen the war on poachers.

The species targeted range from rhinos to elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs and snakes, among others listed as endangered by the CITES.