Rhino DNA database set up to prevent thefts

Museums encouraged to submit samples
Patrick Steel
Following a spate of thefts of rhino horn, museums that have rhino horn in their collections are being encouraged to submit samples to a UK-wide rhino DNA database that is being set up by Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) in Scotland with funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

SASA’s Lucy Webster, who is coordinating the project, said: “While we hope that the horns in museums and zoos in the UK are safe, where large sums of money are involved there will always be some pressure from criminals who seek to exploit these resources.

"This database will store a unique DNA profile for each sample submitted. If any are subsequently stolen, these profiles will allow horns recovered to be traced back to their place of origin - helping investigators disentangle the supply chain of this illegal trade."

Interviewed for CSI Rhino, a BBC Radio 4 documentary broadcast yesterday on the subject, Nevin Hunter, the head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, said: “[The database will] deter people from attempting to put illegal rhino horn into the market. It is a preventative tool and will enable us to track offenders.

“The drive in south east Asia for rhino horn to be used as traditional medicine is a significant concern to us, but in addition we are convinced it is also seen as a commodity to store because it is increasing in value.”

And Ross McEwan of the Trace Wildlife Forensics Network told the programme that in terms of organised criminality the trade in rhino horn was the fourth largest global illegal trade, worth $10bn US a year.

Rhino horn in museums collections is to be included on the database following a successful pilot study with The National Museum of Scotland to show that DNA profiles could be produced from rhino horns that are over 100 years old.

Museums with any rhino horn in their collections are being encouraged to email SASA for more information, and to order a sampling kit: wildlifeforensics@sasa.gsi.gov.uk.

To discuss this, and other security issues, join us this Thursday 11 April from 12-1pm for our Security webchat (members only).

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