Technology has enabled the global black market in exotic animals to thrive – with buyers and sellers connecting over the internet and smugglers using sophisticated devices to evade capture.
“In 2014 about 600 rhinos were killed during the year and there were only around 3,000 to begin with. We are so close to seeing the extinction of yet another species in the wild and the fact of the matter is, it’s not due to habitat loss, it’s due to the actions and greed of man,” Professor Linacre said.
“The amount of genetic material we need to run a forensic science test is tiny, so applying our expertise to tackling the illegal animal trade is a perfect fit.
“We have created technology to enable us to get a full profile of the animal captured or killed from a tiny sample, and the speed of our tests makes them valuable for crime detection.”
Work starts in the lab, but then involves long hours spent on reports and policies as Professor Linacre works with colleagues to influence international legislation and then identify ways to enforce it.
“When a hunter kills an animal for a specific part of it – say a tiger for its claws – they get what they need and go, leaving the rest of the carcass behind. If those claws came to us we would be able to DNA profile them both to their species and then we are able to match them specifically to the body that has been left behind,” Professor Linacre said.
“DNA is stable, making our results basically irrefutable and accepted in courts.
“Thousands of animals are smuggled every year, we want to enforce legislation to protect our endangered animals and give them a better chance of survival.”