India to adopt Africa’s rhino DNA database

RM19 Indian one-horned rhino

Greater one-horned rhino in Kaziranga National Park

RhODIS, the rhino DNA indexing system developed in South Africa to help investigate illegal horn trafficking, is to be used in India to help prevent poaching of greater one-horned rhinos.

Dr Cindy Harper, director of the Onderstepoort Veterinary Genetics Laboratory of the University of Pretoria where RhODIS was developed, and Rod Potter, a South African forensic wildlife investigator, this month visited Assam to demonstrate the technology to local officials.

ACPY02 Dr Cindy Harper with sample of rhino horn

Dr Cindy Harper with rhino DNA sample

RhODIS involves collecting the unique DNA profile of each rhino into a database, which can then be presented as evidence in court in cases of rhino poaching – demonstrating, for example that a seized horn came from a specific poached animal.

The state government of Assam plans to introduce RhODIS in the near future, in collaboration with  the World Wide Fund for Nature – India. DNA will be collected from translocated, poached and naturally dead rhinos. Authorities are also looking at setting up fast-track courts to deal with poachers.

This is timely news for India’s rhinos and for the database’s expansion. When we visited Dr Harper for Project African Rhino RhODIS was just gathering momentum in South Africa and the Kenyan Wildlife Service was the first body outside the country she had been working with that was interested in the new weapon against poaching.

RM20 Indian one-horned rhino swimming

Kaziranga has lost 16 rhinos already this year

Last year at least 41 rhinos were poached and dehorned in Assam, mainly in Kaziranga National Park, which is home to more than 90 per cent of Assam’s estimated 2553 rhinos. At least 16 rhinos have already been killed this year in the park.

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