Assam looks for South African rhino DNA tool

Assam forest department will have a peek into a South African rhino conservation management tool, which will help in successful prosecution of poachers.
The DNA tool christened as RhODIS (Rhino DNA indexing system) helps in providing irrefutable evidence in courts of law and linking crime scenes to suspected criminals leading to successful prosecution.
A three-day workshop organised by the WWF India in collaboration with Assam forest department on Saving Unicorns: International Co-operation for Rhino Conservation is starting here tomorrow and the tool will be demonstrated in the field at Kaziranga.
The tool was first used in a rhino poaching case in 2010 in which a Vietnamese citizen was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for having rhinoceros horns from poached rhinos in his baggage when he was apprehended at OR Thambo International Airport in South Africa.
Apart from resource persons from South Africa, who will be demonstrating the tool, it will be attended by participants from Nepal, Uttar Pradesh forest and West Bengal forest department as well in addition to forest and police officials from Assam.
Officials said the DNA system has established DNA database for rhino profiles allowing rhino range states privileged access to share the data and information.
Till date, it has over 5,000 rhino samples on its DNA database and has contributed towards over 400 rhino investigative cases in the east and southern African region and has set the pace for new global forensic initiatives and standards that enhance conservation efforts in the fight against global wildlife crimes.
The tool has the potential to link with other databases allowing for greater global information sharing where necessary.
“There has not been much work done in Assam on wildlife forensics and stress is now being given on improving crime investigations,” chief wildlife warden R.P. Agarwalla toldThe Telegraph.
The department has been on the back foot as it has not been able to put a stop to poaching despite its best efforts and civil society organisations have been raising voices in the form of protests. Altogether 16 rhinos have been killed in Kaziranga alone this year.
He said rhino convictions were very low in Assam, which could be improved if efforts were made in the right way. “Plans are on to set up a wildlife forensics laboratory on the lines of Gujarat forensic laboratory in Assam too,” he said. An intelligence cell to collect more information about poachers is already operational.
The problem in Assam is that many offenders in rhino cases are out on bail and indulging in poaching again.
“Without conviction, we cannot show our supremacy over poachers. Arrest is just the first step, but if arrested persons are not convicted they become hardcore poachers and will create some more poachers,” Bibhab Talukdar, chair, Asian Rhino Specialist Group, said.
He said to find out the key sponsors or abettors involved in rhino poaching, Kaziranga authorities should immediately collect information from Golaghat, Kaliabor and Biswanath Chariali with regard to persons taking bail for the arrested poachers and start investigation from there.


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