A genetic and forensic laboratory, the first of its kind in eastern Africa, has been opened in Kenya to help prosecute wildlife crimes by poachers, according to The Guardians.
Rhinos and elephants are among the animals being killed by poachers in Kenya, part of a growing illegal wildlife trade across Africa driven by demand in Asia and estimated to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year. The new facility in Nairobi will collect and analyse DNA samples from recovered specimens, to enable investigators to identify the poached animal species. The evidence collected can then be used to prosecute offenders in court, explained Paul Gathitu, the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) spokesman.
“Previously it was difficult to prove a case in court because suspects claimed that the animals in their possession at the time of arrest were part of their domestic flock, such as goats,” explained Gathitu, adding that this new technology is able to identify different species. The facility will be run by a team of 45 researchers, who will also be using genetic technology to map and diagnose diseases among wildlife in eastern Africa.
Over $100m (£64m) has been spent to develop the laboratory through donations from partners such as the Abbot Laboratory and the University of Washington, Seattle. A study by Kenyan NGO Wildlife Direct conducted between January 2008 and June 2013 says over 15% of offenders had their cases withdrawn due to, among other reasons, inconclusive investigations and missing evidence.
“Wildlife related crimes are categorised as petty offences resulting in lenient sentences and failure to capture biometrics of offenders,” the study says. “Prosecutors often fail to prove their case against accused persons beyond reasonable doubt because of poor case prosecution.” A 2012 report by KWS found bush meat, which can include any wild animals for eating, was one of the ‘trophies’ most recovered by authorities, in 6,746 cases.
“The illegal trade in bush meat is leading to the spread of zoonotic diseases in the world,” said US Ambassador to Kenya, Robert F Godec. Last year in July, Interpol announced the formation of an environmental crime team in Africa, to be based at the regional bureau for east Africa in Nairobi. Interpol works with KWS to exchange information, support intelligence analysis and assist national and regional investigations, with a particular focus on wildlife crime.