A test that can quickly identify whether a horn is rhino or not could help in the fight against poachers. The DNA test can prove whether a seized wildlife product is in fact rhino horn, and even identify which rhino species the horn comes from. The test is likely to be in great demand as there has been a huge increase in fake rhino horn products on the market. These are usually made from water buffalo horn, wood or from
The test is likely to be in great demand as there has been a huge increase in fake rhino horn products on the market. These are usually made from water buffalo horn, wood or from synthetic material such as plastics. To convict illegal traffickers, DNA testing is vital to determine whether the horn is actually rhino. These tests usually take between 1 and 3 weeks, but this new test can identify the species in less than 24 hours.
“Over 1000 rhinos are killed each year for the poaching trade, but the low rate of convictions and high prices for the horns make it an attractive market for criminals to enter,” says Australian researcher Kyle Ewart, inventor of the new test. “Better and faster forensic techniques will aid rhino horn trafficking investigations, intelligence gathering and prosecutions.”
The hope is that the 24-hour DNA test will be fast enough for enforcement agencies to secure a conviction. It’s also cheap enough to be widely used throughout developing countries. According to the International Rhino Foundation, the number of rhino poaching deaths is at its highest level in 20 years.
Poaching of black rhinos more than doubled from 2013–2015 due to increased losses in Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. For rhino numbers to grow, net population growth (natural births minus deaths) needs to exceed poaching levels.
Kyle developed the test while working at the University of Sydney and the Australian Museum. He trialled his DNA test at the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources in Vietnam.
Vietnam is renowned as a wildlife trafficking hub and is a leading market for rhino horn. More than 100 kg of rhino horn were seized in March after being smuggled into the country from Kenya. The horn is believed to have medicinal properties and is in high demand among the country’s growing middle class.
From 500,000 rhinos at the start of the 20th Century, today only 29,000 survive in the wild. Rhino populations cannot sustain these high poaching rates.