A KWS member of staff at the laboratory explains to Cabinet Secretary Prof. Judi Wakhungu and other dignitaries the process of operation of a gel electrophoresis machine and UV visualizer to view DNA results

Date Published: 11 May, 2015

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) now has a state-of-the –art forensic and genetics laboratory, making Kenya the second country in Africa after South Africa to apply Wildlife DNA forensic analysis in wildlife law enforcement.

The new facility at the KWS headquarters in Nairobi will aid in the provision of accurate identification of wildlife and wildlife products in order to strengthen prosecution of wildlife crimes. 

This is important because the rate of poaching for bush meat and trophies especially for rhino horns and ivory is leading to alarming decline of wildlife biodiversity. The rhino and the elephant which are classified as critically endangered and endangered respectively under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and Appendix 1 of CITES are particularly affected.

Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources, Prof. Judi Wakhungu, speaking during the commissioning of the laboratory said, “In order to address some of these challenges it is imperative that we enact progressive and stringent policies that would deter criminals as well as adopt modern technology that would assist the criminal justice system to effectively convict and grant appropriate sentences as prescribed in law to wildlife crime perpetrators”.

Prof. Wakhungu said Kenya is currently collaborating with South Africa to develop the Rhinoceros DNA Indexing System under what is commonly known as the “RHODIS” Project. “Upon completion of this project, Kenya shall have a credible gene and data bank of our rhinos for effective monitoring and application of other interventions that would increase and sustain our populations”, she said.

The launch of this laboratory, the Cabinet Secretary said, marks a milestone in the implementation of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, 2013 that has given the mandate of establishment of wildlife forensic laboratories to Kenya Wildlife Service. “It also demonstrates the commitment of the Government in eradicating wildlife crimes that posse major threats to our economy that is largely based on wildlife-tourism”, she said.

KWS Acting Director General Mr. William Kiprono says the facility shall revolutionise and radically change the manner in which investigations involving wildlife crimes shall be handled forthwith. “Proper application of wildlife DNA forensic analysis shall provide crucial evidence that would link with certainty a wildlife crime offender to the particular offence for which they are charged of”, he said.

Expected Benefits of the Laboratory

  1. Reliable identification of wildlife and wildlife products will enhance prosecution and convictions of wildlife crime cases.
  2. Establishment of a database of species genetic markers that will aid in quick reliable identification of wildlife and wildlife products.
  3. Increased convictions of wildlife crime cases is envisaged to deter offenders and thus reduce rate of illegal harvest of wildlife and their products
  4. The laboratory will be one of its kind in the entire East and Central Africa, hence it will serve these countries towards curbing wildlife crimes.
  5. Since Kenya is a hub for international flights, smuggled wildlife and or wildlife products are frequently confiscated at the JKIA. The laboratory will aid the identification and possible source of products such as rhino horns especially once the rhino DNA indexing database is completed.
  6. It will assist in the certification or licensing for export of products whose identification is suspect e.g. ornaments made from animal products, for business or research. This will curb illegal exploitation of Kenya’s biodiversity and genetic resources.
  7. The laboratory will be the only platform for enhancing wildlife genetics research.