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September 22, 2018

Kenya to get first ivory lab

Kenya Wildlife Service Coast Conservation area assistant director Aden Alio displays a rhino horn which was recovered at Mama Ngina Drive Mombasa at Coast KWS headquarters Mombasa.
Kenya Wildlife Service Coast Conservation area assistant director Aden Alio displays a rhino horn which was recovered at Mama Ngina Drive Mombasa at Coast KWS headquarters Mombasa.

Kenya may have the first genetic sequencer to tap DNA information from rhino and elephant horns as early as July this year.

The technology will come with a software and accessories to process DNA profiles from recovered trophy, which will then be packed into rhino and elephant databases, according to the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS).

KWS head of veterinary services, Dr. Francis Gakuya, confirmed that efforts to raise US$ 500,000 (about Ksh. 50 million) to acquire the technology are in the final stages, and will be installed at the KWS forensic laboratory.

“We are looking at a tentative timeline of six months or a year to acquire the technology so that we can be able to do everything from here,” said Dr. Gakuya, Monday, this week.

Unlike previously when the samples were taken to institutions such as the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) for analysis, a sequencer based at KWS will protect information gathered from the DNA from leakage and contamination.

“A sequencer based here is important because if we take the samples out then definitely there could be some chances of contamination,” explained Dr. Gakuya. “We also want to make sure that all the work is done here without moving our stuff outside.”

The possibility of having a sequencer by the set timeline was also boosted by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), Monday this week, between Kenya and the US. It aims to facilitate the fight against poaching and environmental crimes.

“Rhino horn and ivory indexing should be possible soon because part of the reason we are signing the MOU is because there is going to be some funding for improving the forensic laboratory,” said Judy Wakhungu, the Cabinet Secretary, Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Authorities.

The sequencing technology is part of the Rhino DNA Indexing System (RHODIS) announced last year during the launch of the forensic laboratory at KWS.

KWS officials say RHODIS can enable the tracking of ivory and rhino horns when on transit or when they are still on the host, and be able to relate each horn with the host animal.

“RHODIS can be used to develop a database to establish transit routes and end markets of the Rhino horn and ivory all over the world,” says KWS spokesperson, Paul Gathitu.

Since the forensic laboratory was established eight months ago, it has processed 72 wildlife crime cases.

Two bush meat related cases have been convicted while the remaining 70 case are ongoing in courts.

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