Human Interest

DNA toolkits protect endangered species from illegal trafficking

By Ivonne Malaver

Miami, USA, Jun 9 (EFE).-  A DNA testing toolkit is saving the lives of endangered species such as sharks, turtles and eels vulnerable to illegal trafficking.

With the toolkit — developed by Colombian researcher Diego Cardeñosa — officials on the ground can quickly and inexpensively test the DNA of animals to identify whether they under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty to protect endangered plants and animals.

The CITES certificate determines whether the animals can pass customs or must be immediately returned to their natural habitat.

The tool was first used in 2018 to stop an illegal shipment of shark fins in Hong Kong. Since then, Cardeñosa has become an expert on the illicit shark fin market and has analyzed more than 15,000 samples.

In 2020, thanks to the DNA toolkit, authorities stopped a “historic” illegal shipment of 26 tons of shark fins from Hong Kong. The fins had been cut from some 38,000 sharks.

The success of the DNA toolkits has attracted the attention of countries with endangered species including Spain for tuna, Peru for ornamental fish and Colombia for Matamata turtles, birds and freshwater rays.

Earlier this year, Colombian officials stopped the illegal shipment of 2,200 Matamata turtles and returned them to their natural habitat in the Orinoco river basin.

Each year, thousands of these unique animals end up in the hands of traffickers who trade them alive for up to $300 each.

Even though Matamata turtles are easily recognizable, the DNA tests identify the exact species so that they can be returned to their habitat. If the animals are returned to the wrong place, it can have detrimental effects on other native animals and disrupt the evolution of populations, according to Cardeñosa.

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