Our rhinos had their DNA taken today as part of a project by scientists at the Scottish Government who are collating rhino DNA to set up a database to be used by police investigating rhino horn theft.
The illegal trade in rhinoceros horn has become increasingly lucrative in recent years. This is driving not only poaching of wild rhinoceros but also thefts of horns from private collections. More than 50 thefts were reported from European museums, galleries and auction houses in 2011.
Scientists at SASA (Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture) were welcomed at Blair Drummond as they begin to establish a DNA database, in order to help trace the origin of any stolen rhino horn intercepted by the police or customs. The aim of the DEFRA-funded project is to protect exhibits and also live rhinos in zoos from criminal gangs who steal and sell rhino horn.
The National Museum of Scotland took part in a pilot study with SASA which showed that DNA profiles can be produced from museum horns that are over 100 years old.
Scottish Government Environment Minister and PAW Scotland chairman Paul Wheelhouse said:
"The illegal trade in rhino horn has become not only a threat to these magnificent, but sadly very rare animals in the wild but also to our museums and zoos. The work at SASA will help the police to crackdown on the criminals who are beneath contempt and who, seemingly, will stop at nothing to exploit these endangered animals for profit."
Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) houses a Wildlife DNA Forensics unit which provides DNA analysis for wildlife crime investigations in the UK and beyond. This facility, in addition to carrying out regular casework, aims to develop and validate methodology to meet the needs of UK wildlife crime enforcement. A full forensic validation of DNA profiling for black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) has been carried out at SASA, alongside a pilot study to show that DNA profiles can be produced from museum horns that are over 100 years old.