DNA Forensics for wildlife Crime
25, Feb 2019
Prelims level : Science & Technology Mains level : GS 3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
- With investigating agencies facing increased challenges of collecting evidence to ensure convictions in wildlife crimes, DNA forensics are providing a major headway.
- Details of case studies, where advanced DNA forensics were used to help prosecute wildlife related crimes, have been documented in a recently published ZSI report, titled Ascertaining species of origin from confiscated meat using DNA forensics and Wildlife forensics in nullifying the false accusation.
- “Illegal wildlife crime is not confined to a region or to a country but it is an organized crime where several people are involved from local hunters to the end buyers. This calls for an urgent need to employ techniques of DNA forensics to improve conviction rate which at present remains very low.
- Referring to two instances where pangolin scales were seized from Siliguri in August 2017 and April 2018, DNA analysis revealed that these scales were from the Chinese Pangolin whose habitat is restricted to five states in northeast India including parts of north Bengal.
- The ZSI is now developing protocols to identify the number of individuals killed in a seizure from the DNA analyses.
- Scientists at the ZSI, however, pointed out that in most cases the samples they receive from investigating agencies in cases of wildlife crime are disfigured and have lost characters of morphological identity, which poses a major challenge.
- Scientists are involved in creating a reference database to assign the seizures to the source of origin, identifying sexes from seizures to understand poaching/ hunting pressure on the species which might impact the species demography in coming years.
- The ZSI is one of four organisations authorised by the Government of India to submit species identification reports from the confiscated materials.
- This new tool is helping in solving a number of wildlife crimes. The ZSI has also formulated a standard operating procedure in the investigation of wildlife crime.
- The ZSI also organised a workshop for law enforcement agencies titled ‘Wildlife Forensics and Crime Control’, where the participants were informed on using new technological tools to combat wildlife crime.