• Extraordinary measures

    Extraordinary measures

    Just as DNA helps authorities catch and prosecute perpetrators of human crimes, a new technique could lead to identifying rhino poachers by ‘fingerprinting’ the animals’ horns. The method, called RhODIS (Rhino DNA Index System), has been pioneered by the Onderstepoort Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at South Africa’s University of Pretoria.

    RhODIS stores the unique ‘fingerprint’ of every sampled rhino or horn, enabling investigators to link poachers to confiscated horns, crime scenes and/or rhino that have been harmed. The system currently contains the DNA records of more than 20 000 of the continent’s rhino.

    Samples are collected when a rhino is relocated, notched or undergoes any form of human intervention (using a routine kit), though DNA can also be retrieved from a poached rhino or confiscated horn (via a forensic kit).

    According to RhODIS project manager Cindy Harper, less than 20 mg of horn is needed to use as evidence in court. ‘To date, we have compiled more than 200 forensic reports based on our data and had six successful high-profile convictions,’ she says.

    19 July 2016
    Image: Gallo/Getty Images