Wildlife Forensics

Elephant poaching

National Geographic reported that central Africa has lost almost two thirds of its
elephant in just the past 10 years. A study providing the first reliable continent-wide
estimates of illegal kills indicated that ivory-seeking poachers killed 100,000 African
elephants in just three years [1]. This equates to an estimated one in 12 of the African
elephant population.

[1] Wittemyer et al (2014). Illegal killing for ivory drives global decline in African
elephants. PNAS vol. 111: 13117-13121.

Rhino poaching

All five rhinos species are now listed on the
IUCN Redlist of threatened species, with three
of the species critically endangered. The greatest number of rhino resides in South Africa.
According to data collated by the South African Department of Environmental affairs the number
of poached rhino in South Africa alone has increased 10-fold since 2010. These numbers
equate to an average of three rhino poached every day. This represents a devastating number
that may exceed the numbers born. Continued loss at this rate would mean that extinction
risk of these iconic species is accelerating.

It is broadly accepted that the major driver for such activities is the illegal trade in
rhino horn. According to Save the Rhino, countries such as China and Vietnam provide the
major source of demand. The medical community is clear that rhino horn offers no medical
benefits that bear scientific scrutiny. However, the surge in demand since 2007, driven by
increased demand for use in Asian medicine remedies is rapidly increasing rhino horn value.
Such demand fuels interest from criminal groups who are now using sophisticated means to
track and kill rhino to remove their horn. Deterring ad-hoc and organized poachers is a
complex matter that requires education, more reliable detection methods, and stricter

White rhino (Ceratotherium simum)- Africa (Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa,
Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda) – estimated population ~20,000
Near threatened

Black rhino (Diceros Bicornis) – Africa (Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland,
Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Malawei) estimated population ~5,000
Critically endangered

Greater one-horned rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) – India and Nepal, estimated
population ~3,300

Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) – Sumatra (Indonesia) and
Sabah (Malaysia), estimated population less than 100
Critically Endangered

Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) – Java (Indonesia), estimated
population less than 60
Critically Endangered

What are we doing to help combat poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking?

The NCSU Forensic Sciences Institute has partnered with an international team of wildlife
experts in Africa to help combat the poaching of rhino horn and elephant tusk, crimes that
are increasing in frequency. To maximize the impact of forensic tools on combating wildlife
crime requires that alleged illegal specimens be correctly identified by species and
geographic origin. We are developing a rapid, on-site device to expedite acquisition of
genetic information from biological specimens and a comprehensive, secure cloud-based
genetic database of multiple species impacted by animal trafficking. Access to this powerful
resource will enhance the speed and accuracy of identification of biological specimens in
the field, providing real time evidence to detain and subsequently prosecute alleged
traffickers, while providing evidence of transit routes and a greater deterrent to such

In addition to conducting research to aid forensic identification of African elephant and
rhino, we are also helping to raise funds to purchase a new light aircraft to be used to
help combat poaching.

With these efforts we can help to stop the activities that lead to the horriific
pictures shown below of rhino mamed and killed for their horn.