From Science to Action: Taking DNA Barcoding to Battle Against the Bushmeat Crisis
Sarah Burgess-Herbert, Iregi Mwenja, Vincent Opyene
“Speed Presentation” given 7 July 2010
24th Annual Meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology
Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA
Consequences of the unsustainable and illegal commercial trade in wildlife species known as the bushmeat trade include biodiversity loss, impoverishment of rural communities, compromised ecosystem services, and increased incidents of zoonotic diseases. A recent assessment of wildlife laws and governance in East Africa revealed that successful prosecutions of illegal hunting are very rare, that a lack of forensic evidence in wildlife cases leads to their high failure rate, and that most conservation capacity building projects focus limited attention on the prosecution stage of law enforcement. Meanwhile, proof-of-concept testing in a genetics ‘field lab’ in Cameroon, and in labs in the United States, has shown that a tool known as DNA barcoding can identify to species unrecognizable samples of fresh, dried, and smoked bushmeat. Since the identification of animal products can provide crucial forensic evidence, DNA barcoding has the potential to transform the legal battleground in the prosecution of bushmeat cases. For this to happen in East Africa, we conclude that capacity building conservation projects need to focus more heavily on the prosecution of wildlife crimes, such as through the development of government-sanctioned forensic laboratory facilities with at least one central facility equipped to deal with DNA sequencing, and through technical and awareness training for lab technicians, law enforcement partners, wildlife managers, prosecutors, and magistrates.