Tim Wacher

Scales of justice: Fighting wildlife crime with fingerprints

Posted: 28th June, 2018

A new fingerprinting technique has been turned into kits for Wildlife Rangers in Kenya and Cameroon who battle against illegal poaching of pangolins. The packs contain gelatine lifters, a low-adhesive gelatine layer which, when applied to a pangolin scale and scanned, produce clear fingerprint ridge detail. This means that law enforcement agencies will potentially be able to use the kits to identify persons of interest who have touched the scales.

In a preliminary trial, researchers from the University of Portsmouth and ZSL tested the gelatine lifters using pangolin scales supplied by UK Border Force.  Each scale was gripped by five people and when tested 89% of the gelatine lifts examined produced clear ridge detail.

The ranger kits also contain scissors, insulating packs, evidence bags, a roller and a simple pictorial guide; everything they need to find poacher and trafficker fingerprints.

Dr Nicholas Pamment, who runs the Wildlife Crime Unit at the University of Portsmouth, said: “This is a significant breakthrough for wildlife crime investigation. Wildlife trafficking is a significant factor in the loss of habitats and species.

“What we have done is to create a quick, easy and usable method for wildlife crime investigation in the field to help protect these critically endangered mammals. It is another tool that we can use to combat the poaching and trafficking of wild animals.”

Around 300 pangolins are poached every day, making these unusual animals the most illegally trafficked mammals in the world. Their meat is considered a delicacy in China and Vietnam, while their scales are used in traditional Asian and African medicine. All trade in pangolin meat and scales is outlawed under the international CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) agreement.

Grant Miller, Head of the UK’s National CITES Enforcement Team, said: “We know how prized pangolins are by those engaged in wildlife crime. I am delighted that Border Force has been able to play its part in the development of this method of lifting fingermarks from pangolin scales, technology which will help bring poachers and smugglers to justice.”

Related Members