Project name: Field based forensics for protection of tigers and their prey
Goal: To reduce illegal wildlife trade by securing evidence for further surveillance and/or prosecutions. Developing a rapid, real-time technology such as LAMP will allow the collection and analysis of forensic evidence on site. This will provide the ability to test confiscated meat and other body parts.
Objective 1: Prepare and calibrate a mobile LAMP (Loop mediated isothermal amplification) system for tiger and prey identification using a simple sample preparation method.
Objective 2: Train local law enforcement and National Park officials on use of the portable LAMP units. Officers will be trained in sample collection, sample processing, reaction set up and interpretation of results in addition to judiciary processes for the confiscation of illegal deer and tiger parts in accordance with local police, prosecutor and court procedures.
Objective 3: Conduct a live field operation with law enforcement and park officials. The initial study will involve meat products taken from local markets that are suspected of supplying illegally hunted chital deer meat. Subsequent trials will use body parts or samples taken from illegal snares to check for tiger DNA.
Objective 4: Develop a LAMP protocol to be disseminated to project partners. The protocol will allow for both replication of the method and dissemination of best practice to other sites for additional field trials. We also plan to include information on the use of the technology in judiciary processes should its use result in the arrest and prosecution of perpetrators.
Bangladesh is one of only 9 countries in the world to still contain tigers, and the Sundarbans is thought to currently support a population of <100 individuals. Despite conservation efforts to protect this highly threatened population, tiger numbers are declining rapidly due to high rates of poaching affecting both tigers and their prey. Much of the killing is driven by local and international demand for medicines, decoration, community protection and commercial gain. In recent years the Bangladesh authorities have attempted to combat these threats by establishing a Wildlife Crime Control Unit and by implementing intelligence methods such as SMART. Yet, reports suggest that tigers and spotted deer (chital) are still being poached at an alarming rate. This project offers a new, portable, genetic method to complement current anti-poaching efforts that can be used by law enforcement personnel while in the field.
Genetic methods have been used in the past to match suspects to poaching events and to identify fake tiger parts. However, traditional genetic methods are often time and labour intensive. The main objective of this Panthera project is to develop and deploy a portable genetic test that can be used by law enforcement personnel in situ. Officials have historically been unable to determine the origin of the meat sold in these markets, and this DNA test will, therefore, be able to provide the crucial evidence needed for arrests and prosecutions. The ultimate goal of the project is for the DNA LAMP test to be used on a long-term basis to support law enforcement operations in Bangladesh and shared with other partners working on these issues.
Due to field issues, only the first two objectives were carried out. Field trials have been delayed and therefore only half of the agreed funding was dispersed.