South Africa 24.10.2013 06:00 am

CSI for rhino’s

Mike Crowther from the South African National Parks Board injects a micro chip into a Rhino's horn while Mark Boucher assists, at the Pilanesburg Nature Reserve.  Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

Mike Crowther from the South African National Parks Board injects a micro chip into a Rhino's horn while Mark Boucher assists, at the Pilanesburg Nature Reserve. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

As with the popular television programme Crime Scene Investigation, no possible leaf to identify a potential victim is being left unturned.

At Pilanesberg National Park the process is simple. A helicopter herds the rhino into a suitable space and the vet darts it. The ground crew rush in and in a matter of minutes hair is collected from the tail, a general vitamin booster is given, the ear is notched according to a specific pattern for visual identification. The samples are placed in a special rhino DNA kit which is sent to Onderstepoort for inclusion in the Rhino DNA Index System (RhODIS).

The system was developed in South Africa to build a DNA profile of our rhinoceros population. It can also be used to trace and identify where recovered horn was poached.

Using hair, blood and skin samples, the RhODIS database has contributed to a total of 47 years imprisonment for illegal rhino related activities, according to the NGO SAB Boucher Conservation.

“The power of this system is increasing substantially with the numbers of rhinoceros DNA profiles being added to the database weekly,” it said on its website.

If Boucher sounds familiar: the surname belongs to Mark Boucher, South Africa’s most prolific wicketkeeper for the Proteas. His involvement began about three years ago on a camping trip.

“I met some of the anti-poaching unit guys in the Kruger

National Park and was horrified by the stories. I wanted to help and learned about the DNA profiling. It took a while to get the project off the ground but as SA Breweries Castle was

already part of my life, the project eventually began.”

 

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