A new group of wildlife DNA forensics scientists from Southeast Asia has gathered for the first time to discuss boosting the use of DNA as an enforcement technique in the fight against wildlife crime.
Established in June against a backdrop of rising global interest in the role of forensic science in assisting law enforcement and prosecution, the technical group comprises DNA scientists from Malaysia, Thailand, Viet Nam and Indonesia, all experts in wildlife enforcement testing.
The group is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia and was set up as an output from a Society for Wildlife Forensic Sciences workshop, organized by TRAFFIC’s Wildlife TRAPS Project and TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network (TRACE WFN), and funded by the UK Government and USAID.
It was established to increase collaboration amongst scientists in a region that plays a major role in wildlife trade and trafficking, and to encourage greater standardization of testing methods and conformity to new international standards for the production of wildlife forensic data.
A range of measures was discussed at the two-day meeting organized and facilitated by TRACE WFN and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), with deliberations led by Dr Kanita Ouithavon from the Wildlife Forensic Science Unit (WIFOS) of Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.
Measures included the formation of a regional DNA database of protected species in Southeast Asia, a critical reference point for forensic scientists carrying out testing in wildlife crime cases.
“These DNA reference data are essential for robust identification of unknown samples and it makes sense to work together to assemble these data rather than replicating this activity in each country,” said Jeffrine Japning of Malaysia’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks.
“Our wildlife species don’t recognize political boundaries so it’s important that range state countries work together to standardize our testing methods,” added Japning.
The meeting in Chiang Mai was the first of a number scheduled over the coming year.
“Our aim is to engage as many countries within the region as possible to work together on this issue,” said TRACE WFN Director, and Conservation Programme Manager for RZSS, Dr Ross McEwing.
“There is a sizeable divide in capacity amongst countries in the region and we must work to bridge it so that all countries can eventually partner in DNA testing seizures.”
“TRAFFIC and TRACE WFN are working collaboratively and strategically with donor funding from both USAID and the UK Government. This is really important if we are to avoid costly and confusing replication, particularly for such a niche area of wildlife enforcement.”