In a police action becoming more and more commonplace as DNA testing for species gains technological know-how, INTERPOL has begun using this advance detection technique.  Recently in Columbo and Sri Lanka, INTERPOL (the International Police Organization) has taken to DNA forensics in order to identify and trace contraband materials crossing borders into the international marketplace.  The latest incidents both include elephant tusks, a lucrative market in the international trade of endangered animal parts.

The mass murder of endangered animals

INTERPOL has targeted specific shipments of endangered animal parts due what they are terming the mass murder, or slaughter, of animals already in real and present danger of extinction; a real risk they are trying to elimate (read up on INTERPOL’s initiative to preserve endangered species by visiting this page).  The practice has long been relegated in its origins to the African and Asian continents; however the clientele whom purchase the contraband are spread across the globe.  During a routine search of a shipment by Sri Lankan custom officials earlier this year, a container with 359 tusks was discovered.  As these elephants are hunted purely for the value of their husks using crude and cruel methods, most of these elephants don’t survive the attack.  For this reason the ever-decreasing number of wild elephants is reaching near epidemic levels in some regions causing INTERPOL to step up its enforcement.  The advance of genetic testing technology for tracing the geographical origins of a group of confiscated tusks can go a long distance in assisting in the apprehension of the culprits.

DNA technology: Finding the source

DNA testing for geographical location tracing is a relatively new science using somewhat more established technology as a basis.  For many years now it has been possible using mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA) to develop haplogroups of individuals and their geographical origin.  The process involves looking at similarities in large populations at the genetic level, and then determining where and when this genetic material has proliferated across the globe.

Testing for animal origins is essentially the same DNA testing science however applied to of course animals, not humans, and for an entirely different reason.  The end result, however is the same: scientists can locate where a given sample of a test animal subject to an area oftentimes as small as 150 miles in radius.  By comparing animal DNA swabs in the elephant tusk cases, INTERPOL must take test samples from the contraband.  This DNA is then tested and analyzed against other tested samples in a database, and oftentimes against animal groups in the wild.  When the science comes together the DNA testing is able to match a geographical pattern where the animals should have originated from.

Catching the poachers

While testing for bio-contraband is not yet an exact science providing the guilty party over easily to the authorities at INTERPOL, it is a huge step forward.  In cases where the DNA tests have provided a clue as to the geographical region of origin of a contraband endangered animal, INTERPOL can then pull its resources and start an investigation.  Coordinating with local game wardens, national parks, and local police, INTERPOL can collect and compare information on which groups of poachers are operating in a given area.  This information has in the past led to crack downs on endangered animal poaching “cartels” and the arrests of those involved.  At the very least, although still in its infancy, DNA testing for contraband animal products may serve for now as strong deterrent for those currently participating in the practice of either poaching, trafficking, or purchasing endangered animals.  As of 2013 there are more than 10,000 endangered species of animals on the planet today with 4,000 of them being listed as critically endangered.

DNA testing for animals

There are various tests which are aimed at helping our animals friends; from dogs to birds to horses. INTERPOL is using DNA testing to eradicate poaching but more simple tests are available for animal lovers such as dog parentage DNA testing, or paternity tests for our canine friends; does this sound interesting? click here to read more.