Wildlife and their products represent the third greatest illegal traffic after drugs and arms. Illegal trade of wildlife is lucrative as the financial rewards are high and it involves considerably less risk. Worldwide, there exists enormous demand for wildlife products, such as, tiger parts in Chinese traditional medicines, bird feathers in ornamental jewellery or rhino horn as symbol of wealth. In response to this, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was established in 1973 and it imposed a ban on illegal trade of wildlife parts and products derived from endangered species. However, enforcement of laws and strict adherence to norms stipulated by International Conventions remains a challenge.
Monitoring of illegal wildlife trade primarily requires species, individual and sex identification from parts and products seized at the checkpoints. Identification using morphological keys are often not reliable and do not lead to successful prosecution of the offender. In such cases, modern molecular approaches have great utility. DNA can be extracted from highly processed and degraded wildlife products such as, cooked and dried meats, claws on tanned hides, dried shark fins, egg shells, animal hairs, bone, ivory, horns, turtle shell, feathers and fish scales and even from baggage used for carrying the illegal wildlife products. LaCONES plays an important role in unambiguously identifying species involved in illegal wildlife trade by furnishing reports to law enforcement agencies.
Similarly, wildlife diseases pose an enormous threat. Early detection of diseases in wildlife population could lead to control of their spread and mortality of animals. Using DNA based techniques, LaCONES provides diagnosis of wildlife diseases.
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