Statistics show that 1 rhino is killed every 30 hours in South Africa. Rhino horn has been an essential ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries even though it’s repeatedly been proven to be of no use to anyone except the original owner… the rhino. Rhino horns are made of keratin, the same type of protein that makes up hair and fingernails. The RhoDIS (Rhino DNA Index System) is the first DNA database that will match seized rhino horns with carcasses from national parks, reserves, game farms and zoos.
RhODIS will even be used to prove that the person caught with a rhino horn, was also involved in killing it. Dr Cindy Harper, head of Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of Pretoria said the primary aim of the RhODIS database is to support the investigation of rhino poaching incidents through forensic DNA testing.
SANParks has received more than 1 000 rhino DNA sample kits from the University of Pretoria. DNA data of 2000 rhino are saved on the RhODIS database and will ensure more successful prosecutions of rhino poachers. SANParks CEO, Dr David Mabunda said that the RhODIS database kits would also assist rhino managers with the individual rhino in their care and encourage them to take full advantage of this opportunity. Rhino poaching has become increasingly sophisticated as poachers fly in on aircraft, use darts to sedate the rhino and cut off the horns without even alerting game rangers, then leave the animals to bleed to death. RhoDIS could help reveal rhino horn trade networks and give police intelligence to aid the prosecution of those higher up the chain.
Rhino DNA evidence is now being used successfully in court cases related to specific poaching incidents. RhoDIS is supported by SAB Miller, BMW, 702 Talk Radio LeadSA and the University of Pretoria. Subject to funding, the RhoDIS team now want to create DNA databases for other African endangered species.