The South African National Parks yesterday received 1 000 DNA kits to ensure effective prosecution of rhino poachers. According to SanParks, the kits from the faculty of Veterinary Services of the University of Pretoria will go a long way in ensuring management of the rhino population and effective prosecution of rhino horn poachers.
Speaking at the handover ceremony, SANParks CEO, Dr David Mabunda, said that throughout the years, DNA evidence has ensured that criminals are prosecuted and was the only working weapon against poachers. “This will certainly go a long way in changing the trend of suspects found in possession of rhino horn only being charged with possession as the horns in their possession will be linked to a carcass lying somewhere in a national park or game reserve,” he said.
According to Mabunda, the kits would also assist rhino managers with the individual rhino in their care. “The scourge of rhino poaching we are faced with needs sophisticated equipment. Technology is needed to resolve the problems in a national park,” he said, adding that the fight against rhino poaching is everyone’s business. “If we all stand together, we stand a good chance of winning.” Mabunda said the kits are expected to help prosecutors to be tougher on those caught in possession of rhino horns.
There are about 22 000 rhinos in the country and SANParks has lost 333 of them. To date, 122 suspects have been arrested for rhino poaching. Dr Cindy Harper, Head of Veterinary Genetics Laboratory (VGL) at the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Pretoria, said the primary aim of the project is to support investigation of poaching incidents through forensic DNA testing. “The ability to obtain a full DNA profile from rhino horn allows us to match recovered horns to specific poaching incidents,” she said.
The DNA Rhino Sample Kits Project is supported by a host of private sector companies such as SAB Miller, BMW, 702 Talk Radio through its LeadSA Campaign and the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Veterinary Science.