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Poaching war gets DNA boost

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Cape Town - The UN has injected R30-million into law enforcement and DNA-testing to help South Africa fight rocketing rhino poaching.

Environment Minister Edna Molewa said at a briefing on Wednesday her department had signed a co-operation agreement with the UN Environmental Programme (Unep) to formalise the programme.

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It's believed that hunting older black rhino is good for the population, as decimated as it is. Picture: Paballo Thekiso

The UN’s Global Environment Facility (GEF) has allocated $2.7-million (R30m) to the project over four years.

Called the UNEP-GEF Rhino Project, it’s designed to strengthen law enforcement, improve environmental crime-scene management, and help tackle poaching on the ground and the illegal trade internationally. One of the primary focuses will be the use of forensic technology to help secure convictions for horn poaching and trade.

Part of this would include building up a database of DNA samples of rhino horn.

All rhino that were moved from one area to another had to have DNA horn samples taken first.

Many of the stockpiles of rhino horn, built up over years from natural rhino deaths, had already had DNA samples taken, some of which had been analysed by the University of Pretoria’s veterinary genetics laboratory. However, there was a backlog of samples to be analysed and the GEF money would help pay for the backlog to be reduced.

Molewa said the DNA analyses gave a record of the origin of the horn, which, if found illegally in the possession of anyone, would help in prosecuting the individual.

Frances Craige, the department’s chief director of law enforcement, said the money would also be used for crime-scene management.

“For instance, in determining how and when the rhino was killed.”

So far, a programme manager had been appointed to run the UNEP-GEF Rhino Project, a trailer with forensic equipment had been bought and training on advanced crime-scene management would begin next month.

The Rhino Project brings together several groups involved in combating rhino poaching including the police, SANParks, the University of Pretoria, the World Wide Fund for Nature and staff implementing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Last year, 1 004 rhinos were slaughtered for their horns. In the Kruger National Park, between April last year and this year, 133 people were arrested for poaching, 63 in KwaZulu-Natal, 34 in Mpumalanga and Limpopo and 26 in North West. In this period, 70 rhino poaching court cases had been finalised, with 85 people convicted and 13 acquitted.

“The highest sentence during that period was handed down in the State versus W Mawala case where the accused was convicted of murder, illegal hunting and trespassing, with an effective sentence of 21 years’ imprisonment,” Molewa said, adding that since then there had been harsher sentences.

Cape Times

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