Tiger (Panthera tigris) populations are in danger across their entire range due to habitat loss, poaching and the demand for tiger parts. The Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) is an endangered apex predator with a population size estimated to be less than 200 in Nepal. In spite of strict wildlife protection laws, illegal trade of tiger parts is increasing; and Nepal has become one of the major sources and transit routes for poached wildlife parts. Identification of wildlife parts is often challenging for law enforcement officials due to inadequate training and lack of available tools. Here, we describe a molecular forensic approach to gain insight into illegally trafficked tiger parts seized across Nepal. We created Nepal’s first comprehensive reference genetic database of wild tigers through the Nepal Tiger Genome Project (2011–2013). This database has nuclear DNA microsatellite genotype and sex profiles, including geo-spatial information, of over 60% (n = 120) of the wild tigers of Nepal. We analyzed 15 putative cases of confiscated poached tiger parts and all were confirmed to be of tiger. Ten samples were identified as male and five were female. We determined probable geo-source location for 9 of the 14 samples with 6–8 nuclear DNA microsatellite loci using inferences from four different statistical assignment methods. Six samples were assigned to Bardia National Park and one of these was an exact match to a female tiger previously profiled in our fecal DNA reference database. Two tiger samples were assigned to Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve and one to Chitwan National Park. We are unable to definitively assign five tiger samples which could be offspring dispersers or might have come from tiger population outside of Nepal. Our study revealed that the western region, particularly Bardia National Park, is a poaching hotspot for illegal tiger trade in Nepal. We present feasibility of using molecular forensic based evidence to incriminate criminals in a court of law in the fight against wildlife crime.
Dibesh Karmacharya, Adarsh M. Sherchan, Santosh Dulal, Prajwol Manandhar, Sulochana Manandhar, Jyoti Joshi, Susmita Bhattarai, Tarka R. Bhatta,Nagendra Awasthi, Ajay N. Sharma, Manisha Bista, Nawa R. Silwal, Pravin Pokharel, Rom R. Lamichhane, Netra Sharma, Bronwyn Llewellyn, Claudia Wultsch, Marcella J. Kelly, Digpal Gour, Lisette Waits, Jean-Marc Hero, Jane Hughes. (2018) Species, sex and geo-location identification of seized tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) parts in Nepal— A molecular forensic approach. PLoS ONE 13(8): e0201639