Doubts raised about dung DNA database for jumbos (Thailand)
jeudi 9 février 2012
Scientists doubt a plan to create a DNA database of wild elephants will deter the smuggling trade.
The National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department plans to create the database by testing elephants’ dung.
Chomcheun Siripunkaw, a researcher of the Programme in Conservation Biology at Mahidol University, said collecting DNA from dung can help scientists learn more about the elephants’ genetic diversity and growth ratio, which would help in conservation efforts.
But using the database for detecting crimes may be less successful, as courts could question the reliability of the results, which is less than that for blood tests.
"I agree with a DNA database for academic purposes. But I am afraid it will not be useful for court cases as results of DNA from dung might not be accepted by a court," she said.
Testing the DNA in blood costs 3,000 baht a sample. The cost of testing dung for DNA is higher, at 5,000 baht a sample.
The department estimates that around 4,000 wild elephants live in 33 national parks and 28 wildlife sanctuaries, covering a total area of 56,270 sq km. More than 8,100 samples would have to be taken to cover all jumbos in the wild.
Ms Chomcheun and her team created a DNA database from dung collected in the Salakphra Wildlife Sanctuary in Kanchanaburi in 2004, and 2005.
They collected 500 samples of dung, which yielded DNA records for only 170 elephants and 180 elephants respectively.
Kanita Ouitavon, chief of the department’s Wildlife Forensic Unit, admitted the team, with only four staff, might have trouble coping with the workload if a large amount of dung comes into her office at the same time.
Fresh dung is best, which means tests must be undertaken within 24 hours.
"We need two or three tests for the sake of accuracy. I don’t know if we have enough resources to do it," she said.
A department official who requested anonymity said collecting DNA from captive elephants would be easier.
The Livestock Development Department has collected the blood of 1,500 of the 3,200 captive elephants nationwide. However, DNA profiles have been recorded for only 400.
But Theerapat Prayurasidhi, deputy chief of the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, insisted the DNA database would go ahead.
"We will start with wild elephant poaching hotspots. In the next three years, we hope to cover the seven wild habitat zones," Mr Theerapat said.
The first two priority areas are the Hauy Kha Khaeng-Thung Yai Wildlife Sanctuary in Uthai Thani and Kanchanaburi, Kaeng Krachan and Kui Buri national parks in Phetchaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan.
The tests will also be carried out at the Khao Yai-Tablan National Park in the Central region, Khao Ang Ru Nai Wildlife Sanctuary, the Phu Khiew forest complex in the Northeast, Omkoi National Park in the North and Hala-Bala forest complex in the South.
February 9, 2012
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