Google will fund the new system to trace origin of illegal wildlife products to the tune of Sh255 million ($3 million).The DNA barcode tracing system for the country’s endangered species will be up in a year’s time in an electronic library at the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) headquarters in Nairobi.
The project is led by the NMK and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). Supervision will be conducted by the Consortium for Barcode of Life (CBOL), under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution, which is the world’s largest museum and research complex.
This barcode system works much the same way as a supermarket scanner. The scanner reveals details of an item, such as pricing, name and manufacturer when it is passed before it.
“If someone is caught with a wildlife trophy, we as the wildlife forensics experts will get its DNA and scan it against the DNA data base in the library which will immediately tell us what species of the animal it belongs to,” explains Dr Hastings Ozwara, a molecular biologist at the NMK’s Institute of Primate Research (IPR).
The library will have an initial data base of at least 200 species of Kenya’s critically endangered plants and animals. This number will increase with time, to include all wildlife species.
“The new forensics technology will eliminate doubt in evidence produced in cases involving wildlife crimes,” adds Dr Charles Musyoki, the senior scientist, Department of Species Conservation and Management at the KWS.
Trade in endangered wildlife not only involves ivory and rhino horns. Some of the little-talked about animal and plant species are equally threatened by illegal trade.
“There are 60 cases of sea turtles being poached in one area of Watamu at the Kenyan coast in the last three years, but nobody is talking about it,” says Salisha Chandra of the Kenya United Against Poaching (KUAPO).