During the 16th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES COP16) in Bangkok, 3-14 March 2013, the Parties "recognised that the illegal trade in elephant specimens is an international problem which requires all elephant range States and transit and consumer States to take urgent and concerted efforts to combat it" ( CITES Resolution Conf. 10.10 Rev. COP16) and highlighted the importance of addressing the entire crime chain, including determining which elephant populations are most affected by poaching. Additionally, 170 governments voted unanimously to bring hundreds of new timber species under CITES control in order to ensure legal, sustainable and traceable trade in timber and forest products.

In line with these decisions, UNODC, as a member of ICCWC, has taken the lead in the development and coordination of:

- Guidelines for forensic laboratory methods and procedures of ivory sampling and analysis;

- Guidelines for forensic laboratory methods and procedures of timber sampling and analysis.


Guidelines on best practices for forensic identification techniques for sourcing and ageing seized ivory

In 2011, up to 46.5 tonnes of ivory were seized, a figure 2.5 times the average of 18.6 tonnes for the period 1996-2011. The 34 large-scale ivory seizures of 800 kg or more were made between 2009 and 2011, totalled nearly 61 tons of illegal ivory. Although the seizure of this illegal contraband is a success, investigations often end at the point of the seizure.

Identifying the areas from where the seized ivory originates is vital for designing efficient law enforcement responses. This will ensure that resources are directed to those areas in elephant range states where the most significant poaching activities occur. This will also support elephant range countries to combat the illegal killing of elephants and its illegal trade more effectively. It is recognised that determining the origin, and in some cases the age of seized ivory, will make a significant contribution to ensuring that the entire crime chain is addressed, from countries of origin to the countries of destination, from the crime scene to the prosecution of criminal actors.

Following CITES Secretariat's call to "examine and advise about existing DNA-based and forensic identification techniques for sourcing and ageing ivory", UNODC is developing a DNA-based manual containing guidelines on best practices, protocols and operational procedures.

The guidelines to include detailed protocols for identified forensic methods of ivory sampling and analysis to be used by different laboratories with appropriate facilities, to support transnational criminal investigations and law enforcement operations. They have been designed as a general guidance, with initial focus on ivory samples and DNA analysis. The guidelines also cover the whole chain of custody from sampling, sample collection and transport to extraction and analysis in the laboratory, reference mapping and interpretation of results. The guidelines include, inter alia, sections on standard regulations for data generation and database maintenance, operational procedures on how to use the data to support forensic investigations and to design specific law enforcement measures, and consider mechanisms for international cooperation, training and capacity-building purposes. As such, they can be applied in different settings (e.g. methodologies, species) and can be amended with specific annexes as appropriate.


Guidelines for forensic analysis of CITES Timber Species: Determining species and geographical source of protected timber and timber products

Illegal logging and the international trade in illegally logged timber is a major problem, especially for forest-rich countries in the developing world. An INTERPOL and UN Environment Programme Report published in 2012 estimated illegal logging, including processing, to be worth between US $30 to 100 billion globally. [1] It is estimated that more than 100 million cubic metres of timber are harvested illegally each year, with most illegal activities in Brazilian Amazon, Cameroon, Ghana, Indonesia and Malaysia. [2]

In line with CITES Secretariat's decisions, UNODC, in close cooperation with ICCWC partners, is developing and coordinating the Guidelines for forensic analysis of CITES timber species. It is expected that the development of these guidelines will help tackle the problem of illegal logging, mislabelling of timber species, and smuggling of wood products. Forensic analysis of timber can provide robust results including the identification of the species and geographical provenance of the timber sample. This information is also essential to design efficient law enforcement responses.

It is recognized that determining the origin and species of timber will make a significant contribution to ensuring that the entire crime chain is addressed, from producing countries to consumer countries. In addition to directly protecting timber species, the use of these guidelines will increase the probability of making an arrest, strengthen the evidence needed for prosecutions, increase opportunities for controlled deliveries that provide evidence along the entire crime chain, and improve efficiency of law enforcement by assuring that patrols are in the right place at the right time. Finally, identifying the locations where illegal logging takes place, forces countries to take responsibility for the illegal logging activities in their region and strengthens international cooperation to address this problem.

To obtain more information about the above forensic guidelines please contact us.

[1] Interpol and UN Environment Programme, Green Carbon, Black Trade: Illegal Logging, Tax Fraud and Laundering in the World's Tropical Forests