DNA database to fight rhino horn theft

April 9, 2013 at 4:32 PM
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LONDON, April 9 (UPI) -- A new DNA database of all the rhinoceros horn in Britain is being created in an attempt to stem the illegal theft and trade in the horns, officials said.

British museums and other institutions holding rhino horns have been asked to provide samples as the National Wildlife Crime Unit creates its DNA database, the BBC reported Tuesday.

"The illegal trade in endangered species is one of our six wildlife crime priorities and, within that, the number one issue for us is the illegal trade in rhino horn," unit head Nevin Hunter said.

Poaching of rhinos and the illegal trade in their horns is being driven by high prices paid in China and Vietnam where the horns are considered a cure for many human maladies.

Stealing antique rhino horn kept in British museums and collections can bring similar profits with much lower risks than poaching, officials said.

"Thieves fleeing from a county museum are unlikely to get shot," a curator at one British museum told the BBC.

At least 20 criminal incidents involving rhino horn have been reported in Britain in the last two years, authorities said, involving organized crime at a high level.

"They know how to obtain the horn and they know how to dispose of it -- you can't just sell it on eBay," wildlife crime officer Andy Long said.

The DNA database will deter thieves and enable officers to secure more convictions, authorities said.

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