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KWS commissions construction of wildlife forensic and genetics laboratory

Date Published: 14 Aug, 2012
KWS commissions construction of wildlife forensic and genetics laboratory

KWS molecular biologist Moses Otiende explains how the thermal shake machine works to AG Githu Muigai (Centre) and Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Ms. Dorcas Oduor.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has commissioned the construction of a Ksh. 60 million wildlife forensic and genetics laboratory at its headquarters in Nairobi.

The event which was graced by Attorney General Githu Muigai, said that the new constitution raises the threshold for required evidence in court and that the scientific proven evidence will help the courts determine the truth.

“The wildlife bill is at an advanced stage and it will be presented to before parliament soon.” He added. 

KWS Director Julius Kipng’etich said that the launch of the scientific lab is a key milestone to strengthen investigations. He said KWS will assist the CID with scientific evidence once poachers are nabbed. “The University of Washington has been doing it for us. We were forced to travel all the way to the US but now we will be able to tell the difference between donkey meat, dog meat, gazelle and any other animal.” He said.

Illegal poaching for wildlife trophies and bush meat is a pervasive and extremely serious conservation problem facing wildlife in Kenya today. Despite strong intelligence and investigatory capacities by KWS, there has always been a challenge of having strong legal evidence in courts to convict suspects arrested for committing these crimes. By establishing a forensic and genetics laboratory that will employ modern DNA technology, this challenge will be surmounted because it will be possible to connect exhibits (wildlife trophies and bushmeat) to specific poaching incidents. The laboratory will in addition help in tracking genetic status of declining wildlife populations as well as determine isolated and special gene pools that require special protection. It will also enhance disease diagnosis, surveillance and monitoring in wildlife populations.

Kipng’etich added that most poachers were used to deboning animals once they poach them so that they cannot be caught. He said they have now acquired state of the art equipment that can differentiate between meats from different animals.

The facility that is supported by donors from various parts of the world is expected to be constructed at an estimated cost of Ksh110 millionand will comply with standards established by the Kenya Accreditation Service (KENAS). In addition any special requirements established by the Judiciary, Ministry of Justice, national Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs and by the International Laboratory Accredit Cooperation (ILAC) Guidance for Forensic Science Laboratories will be met.

Moses Otiende a molecular biologist with KWS said that once a poacher is caught, the sample of the meat, ivory or rhino horn he has with will be taken and compared with samples from the scene where an animal was killed.

“We will analyze and compare the DNA results and present it to our investigations personnel.” He said.

KWS already has qualified laboratory personnel to run the laboratory and an established prosecution prosecutorial authority required for bringing cases to court. However, a team of technical staff will undergo a further rigorous forensic training; those skills will be taught at the DNA forensic analysis laboratory, Koret School of Veterinary Medicine, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This is a world re-owned molecular lab that deals with wildlife forensics and conducts all DNA forensic analysis required by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Other trainings will be conducted at the Smithsonian Institute, USA.

Once complete, the facility will be the only one in East and Central Africa.

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