An officer holds seized pangolin scales © TRAFFIC

An officer holds seized pangolin scales © TRAFFIC


Published 4 July 2016


Forensics expertise brought to bear on international wildlife trade

Pretoria, South Africa 4th July 2016—Scientists from Malaysia, Thailand, Viet Nam, Indonesia, South Korea, Australia and the United Kingdom as well as the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) law enforcement attaché for Southern Africa, last week visited the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG) to learn about the wildlife DNA casework being undertaken to help crack cases with international ramifications. 

The need for international forensics collaboration was highlighted by the seizure the previous day of a staggering four tonnes of pangolin scales in Hong Kong, said to have been transported there from Cameroon. 

“Forensic examination can provide valuable insights into such seizures, increasingly as techniques develop, providing information on their origin, and potentially uncovering incriminating evidence as to who was behind the shipment,” said Dr Ross McEwing, Technical Director of UK based TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network.

“Forensics experts have a small but vital role in the investigative process, but we must work collaboratively with likeminded counterparts from around the world to deliver the right forensic tools to support investigations and prosecutions.”

Professor Antoinette Kotze, Manager of Research & Scientific at NZG said “This was an exciting opportunity to engage with our colleagues from Asia to develop collaborative projects and showcase our government-supported wildlife DNA forensics facility here in Pretoria.”

Nick Ahlers from TRAFFIC said: “Promoting the use of wildlife forensic science is a priority output of the Wildlife TRAPS Project and meetings like this demonstrate how quickly dialogue between likeminded scientists and knowledge sharing can happen.” 

A key focus of the meeting was the illegal pangolin trade between Africa and Asia. 

Dr Jeffrine Rovie from the National Wildlife Forensic Laboratory in Malaysia said: “Our laboratory has received many samples of confiscated pangolin parts, some of which DNA evidence indicates have originated from African species. There are obvious overlaps between our work in this area and the analysis of African pangolin parts undertaken here in the NZG laboratory: we each have relevant knowledge, which means sharing our joint expertise is absolutely invaluable for supporting international enforcement efforts.” 

About National Zoological Gardens

The National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG) as a declared national research facility provides unique and cutting-edge research platforms, supports research of strategic importance and contributes to growing a representative research workforce through focused human capacity development initiatives.

About TRACE Wildlife Forensic Network

TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network is an international NGO, based in Edinburgh, that aims to promote the use of forensic science in biodiversity conservation and the investigation of wildlife crime. The TRACE network brings together forensic scientists and enforcement agencies to exchange information on the latest challenges facing wildlife law enforcement and modern techniques for tackling

Professor Rob Ogden is Director of TRACE, and Chair in Conservation Science at the University of Edinburgh, where he holds the positions of Director of Conservation Science and Head of Conservation Genetics at the Veterinary School and the Roslin Institute.

About Wildlife TRAPS

The USAID-funded Wildlife Trafficking, Response, Assessment and Priority Setting (Wildlife TRAPS) Project is an initiative that is designed to secure a transformation in the level of co-operation between an international community of stakeholders who are impacted by illegal wildlife trade between Africa and Asia. The project is designed to increase understanding of the true character and scale of the response required, to set priorities, identify intervention points, and test non-traditional approaches with project partners.


TRAFFIC is a leading non-governmental organisation working to ensure that trade in wild species is legal and sustainable, for the benefit of the planet and people.