Govt set to introduce DNA barcode to curb wildlife smuggling

The National Trust for Nature Conservation has decided to introduce DNA barcodes to curb the trade of endangered wildlife products and plants.

Shankar Prasad Adhikari, Secretary at the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, said the country was adopting DNA barcoding system with an objective to strengthen the investigation, prosecution and conviction of trade in endangered species of wild plants and animals in the international black market.

The National Trust for Nature Conservation will introduce barcode system under the Barcode of Wildlife Project, Nepal.

“I am confident that this project be a milestone in conservation of endangered species whilst combating wildlife crime,” said Adhikari at a programme organised in the capital. The project is the first of its kind in Nepal.

Citing a resolution on wildlife crime by the European Parliament in January last year, NTNC said wildlife crime is the fourth largest illegal activity in the world, after drug trafficking, counterfeiting and human trafficking. The wildlife crime has an annual turnover of at least $19 billion.

Siddhartha B Bajracharya, Chief of the project, informed that the DNA barcoding was a genuine and foolproof evidence-based method to identify biological specimens of wildlife and plants.

“We have prioritised creating and maintaining DNA barcodes of 200 species of endangered wild animals and plants which are commercially hunted and harvested for trafficking,” he informed.

Manish Raj Pandey, senior conservation officer at NTNC, said DNA barcoding of as many as 50 wild animals and plants will be carried out in the first phase of the project. The officials are likely to opt for rhino, elephant, bear, leopard, red panda, pangolin and musk deer among wild animals, and yarsagumba, sandalwood and orchid under plant species in the first phase, he added.

According to the National Trust for Nature Conservation, DNA barcode involves working with organism, lab procedures and managing data of samples of animals and plants. Barcoding enables identification of wild animals and plants and their origin within minutes using the technology. The system will also help ascertain if seized parts of wildlife or plant is genuine or not.

The database of DNA barcode is compared with specimens of seized products whether in powder, meat, bone, artefact or oil form to establish the identity of animal and plant species. The technology is expected to help curb illegal trade in wildlife and plant species in the national and transnational level.

The US-based Consortium of Barcode for Life, National Museum of Natural History and Smithsonian Institution are supporting the National Trust for Nature Conservation to develop the DNA barcoding.

David Schindel, executive secretary at National Museum of Natural History, said the scientific method will assist the law enforcement officials in producing foolproof evidence to prosecute smugglers of wild animals and plants.

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