DNA Kit to Fight Illegal Animal Trading


Photo credit: George Braun

Watch out, evil-doers: A new weapon in the fight against the illegal trade of endangered and threatened species has just been added to the arsenal.

The device will allow officials to test suspicious goods on the spot to discover if they have been prepared using ingredients from rare species. Developed with the aid of British DNA forensics specialists, the test works to uncover the use of tissues from protected animals, especially bears, in traditional medicines—a lucrative market in Asia—by detecting specific proteins found in the animals.

Trials of the DNA test kit in Australia and Canada have already identified 16 cases where illegal products were destined for the market. (Oh, snap!) The timing of this kit could not be better. Already, organized crime syndicates, with the assistance of corrupt government officials, have turned environmental crime into a multibillion-dollar business—one that is rivaling even the drugs trade, according to a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency.The illegal trade of species—such as Asian big cats, elephants, the Asiatic black bear (pictured above), and the Tibetan antelope—has only been eased along by the growth of illegal logging, which the EIA claims is creating instability in many countries.

Meanwhile, approximately 12,000 bears are raised in farms in China, Korea, and Vietnam, according to the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). While these bear farms are within their rights to supply local firms, they are also suspected of illegally trading with other countries, likely because of the much higher markup in prices. (A single gram of bear bile that sells for 50p in China may fetch £35 in Japan, estimates The Guardian.)

You can imagine why conservation and animal-rights groups are up in arms, however: Captive bears are wounded in the abdomen and fitted with tubes to extract bile from their gall bladders.

The new test kit will save inspectors considerable time; previously suspect goods had to be sent away to labs for testing, a lengthy process that made it difficult to nab illegal products as they came through. :: The Guardian

See also: :: America Celebrates Endangered Species Day, :: Endangered Species Act: 93% Success Rate In Northeast, :: Andy Warhol's Endangered Species and Vanishing Animals, :: Biologists Defend the Endangered Species Act, and :: Delaying Tactics Put U.S. Wildlife in Hot Water

Tags: Biodiversity | China | Conservation | United Kingdom | Vietnam

Best of TreeHugger