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New wildlife forensic laboratory likely to be hijacked by charismatic species

Dr David Roberts, Senior Lecturer in Biodiversity Conservation from the University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, comments on the opening of the latest forensic science laboratory in Thailand attempting to combat illegal trafficking of endangered species.

‘Recently the UN recognised environmental crime, such as the illegal wildlife trade, as an emerging form of transnational organised crime in need of greater response. They passed, by consensus, a resolution encouraging governments to strengthen laws to prevent and combat such crimes. The illegal wildlife trade is 4th only to narcotics, human and counterfeiting - in terms of transnational trafficking - and estimated to be worth $19-26.5billion pa.

‘The development of a new wildlife forensics laboratory in Bangkok using the latest DNA techniques is clearly a welcome development. However such facilities, as well as the current Convention of the Parties (CITES) opening in the capital, are likely to be hijacked by a small number of charismatic species, such as elephants, rhinos and tigers. While these species grab the headlines other species are becoming extinct!

‘For example the slipper orchid Paphiopedilum vietnamense became extinct within 5 years of discovery; described new to science in 1999, it was declared extinct in the wild by 2004. This species is now found in peoples greenhouses and few in Vietnam have seen the financial benefits of their biodiversity. More recently, the slipper orchid Paphiopedilum canhii, within two weeks of its description, orchid collectors where in the region looking for it.

‘While welcome, the facilities are likely to benefit only a few species at a significant cost, while others become extinct.’

Dr Roberts’ research focuses on questions of species detectability and extinction, and orchid ecology, as well as wildlife trade and the role of digital resources. He is particularly interested in investigating wildlife trade over the internet and developing tools and strategies to aid detection of illegal activity and gathering of statistics.

The Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) is part of the University of Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conservation.


Story published at 9:52am 5 March 2013

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Last Updated: 12/06/2013