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Poachers beware! The country is now equipped with a facility that can distinguish between poached game and goat meat using a sample of its fur or meat. On top of this, it will be able to identify the specific animal. And no more months of waiting for forensic results from neighbouring South Africa (SA) at great expense. Excellent!

All thanks to the new animal laboratory that is set to use DNA forensics to enhance investigations and submission of evidence to court for poaching related cases among other animal related issues. The animal laboratory that was launched on Wednesday marks yet another significant milestone for the country, coming soon after the launch of the country’s oxygen manufacturing plants a month ago.

These plants added to a health forensic laboratory that was set up in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has empowered our health system to conduct preliminary tests that previously had to join the queue in neighbouring SA that was serving the region and take forever to get back.
Incidentally, on the same day the Finance Minister, Neil Rijkenberg, was launching another technological step forward for the country with the electronic advance ruling tool, which will assist import and export traders submit requests and receive rulings on product origin, classification and valuation, prior to their movement.

This is another huge development that has the potential to save costs and improve trade across borders, in addition to enhancing the ease of doing business in the country. We are also told we are the first in Africa to launch this online facility. Kudos to government. Back to the animal lab. The project was initiated in April 2022 by Dr Sara Padidar, a Molecular Biologist from the Department of Biological Sciences at UNESWA. They highlighted that the EWILD Laboratory had cutting edge molecular capacity that would be critical to UNESWA, wildlife law enforcers and the general public.The EWILD Laboratory, which was established under the leadership of Professor Thembalilahlwa Mahlaba, is housed at the Department of Biological Sciences at UNESWA.


We must thank USAID for their E2.7 million contribution, as well as AllOut Africa Foundation, towards the EWILD laboratory. The investment couldn’t have come sooner, given the growing wildlife sector in the country ,as well as the plans to merge the big five game reserves project to boost tourism. The country is also highly susceptible to stock theft with thousands of livestock farmers falling prey to cattle rustlers. However, convictions don’t match the high rate of this crime. We look forward to the laboratory playing a significant role in this regard, applying standard international best practices. The services will be extended to other sectors such as ecological research and livestock management, which is good. Dr Padidar explained that this level of expert molecular identification was previously unavailable in Eswatini and had to be done in neighbouring SA, sometimes taking up to six months to get the results. Also, she said this had financial implications.

The statistics involving wildlife crime make for depressing reading. Information availed at the launch by EWILD reveal that between 2017 and 2019 over 230 incidents of wildlife crime were reported and 20 species were affected. This has to stop. While doing some reading on the subject of animal DNA, I came across a research paper titled ‘Poaching forensics: Animal victims in the courtrooms’ by Cindy Harper of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria, Onderstepoort, South Africa, which cited cases involving this technology that underscore its significance.


She highlighted how animal hair, particularly that of domestic pets, has also played a critical role in the conviction of offenders in human criminal cases due to the ease with which these hairs adhere to clothing and can be transferred. She cited one case of how the hair of a domestic cat named Snowball found on a suspect’s jacket linked him to a victim in a homicide case in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Harper further emphasises the point that the success of forensic scientists developing systems to support prosecution and investigation of wildlife and animal crime must, in turn, be supported by legislators developing frameworks and effective legal tools with which to enforce laws and improve prosecution.

“Training of prosecutors and magistrates in wildlife forensic techniques and their application to prosecuting wildlife crime, are essential to ensure that results are effectively and correctly introduced into court proceedings and well understood. In some instances, dedicated courts and prosecutors are required to deal with increased poaching and case loads. The rate of detection of trafficked animal products remains low compared to the numbers of animals being poached, and the sentences of perpetrators along the value chain, if convicted, have been relatively light in many jurisdictions,” she recommends.With the launch of the EWILD animal lab, Eswatini is surely demonstrating a commitment to playing a part to curbing this global challenge. Now it is up to the rest of us to ensure this milestone makes a positive impact for this sector.

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