Detecting Illegally Traded Wildlife Products

What’s In My Soup? 

WCS’ Portable Diagnostic Tools to Detect Illegally Traded Wildlife Products

Identification of endangered shark species in the illegal wildlife trafficking and trade: Shark species play an integral role in aquatic ecosystems. For thousands of years as apex predators, they have both acted as indicators of ocean health and played a dedicated role in the food chain, maintaining a balance with competitors and ensuring species diversity. Sharks are suffering catastrophic losses because of unsustainable harvest. Over 100 million sharks are taken from our oceans annually, with the majority serving the shark fin trade. Sustainable consumption and trade of shark fins and their products requires a traceability platform that allows for the identification and differentiation between legal and illegal wildlife products. The ability to identify illegally traded products in real time enables governmental and law enforcement agencies to take action (e.g. confiscation) and improve conservation strategies for species being unsustainably over-harvested. Indonesia has the world’s highest diversity of sharks. It is one of the world’s top shark-fishing nations and is a leading exporter of shark fins. Over the past year, the WCS Molecular Program has been working with WCS Indonesia to develop, manufacture, and implement smartphone-based DNA testing to identify illegally traded shark species. These new tools augment the historically used visual identification/classification of shark fins. Our new, portable DNA test kits can identify endangered shark species in Indonesia including scalloped hammerhead and pelagic thresher sharks and silky sharks. These new tests will be pilot tested in Indonesia in 2019. Test results will provide information to customs enforcement agents about whether the product is from a species that is protected or endangered, and is therefore illegal.


Photo credits: Adeline Seah/ WCS

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