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UNODC host DNA forensic training in Lao PDR

Vientiane, Lao PDR (5 November 2019)
- Law enforcement Officers and lab technicians completed a one-day training course on DNA forensic techniques for wildlife crime in Lao PDR. The Ministry of Science and Technology hosted the course at the Biotechnology and Ecology Institute (BEI) for officials and officers from the Department of Environmental Police, the Department of Forestry Inspection, and the Department of Customs. UNODC delivered the training in cooperation with TRACE, the wildlife forensics network, under the Portable Enforcement Laboratory for Testing Seizures (PELTS) project. The training introduced officials to DNA forensic techniques that can be used to assist investigation and prosecution of wildlife crimes, and demonstrated the PELTS process.

PELTS provides a fast and high-quality method of conducting wildlife DNA forensic testing.. The mobile forensic testing laboratory has all necessary tools to sample seized wildlife or wildlife products, and to extract, purify and amplify DNA. The amplified synthetic DNA then can submit, without presence of CITES permits, for sequencing. The forensic evidence obtained from a sample is returned to law enforcement within a week of the testing initiation. Moreover, the PELTS process performs and preserves the integrity of the chain of custody, ensuring that the DNA evidence can be admissible in criminal justice system.

Collecting DNA forensic evidence from wildlife seizures gives prosecutors and law enforcement a significant advantage in the fight against transnational wildlife crime. DNA evidence collected from seizures confirms the authenticity and species of a wildlife product, providing prosecutors with better evidence to use at trial. Forensic evidence may also be used to determine the geographic origin of a wildlife product. Using this intelligence, law enforcement can trace a seizure back to its source, giving officers new insight into the trafficking patterns that connect transnational wildlife crime.

Lao PDR has seen increased trafficking activity in recent years. As the neighbouring governments, including China and Viet Nam, crack down on wildlife crime within their borders, criminals and illicit markets have relocated to other countries in the region. This changing regional environment is reflected in the increasing number of seizures made by Lao law enforcement, including several multi-ton ivory shipments which are classified as major shipments in the CITES context. Whereas country like China has the ability conduct sophisticated investigations into transnational wildlife crime, Lao PDR and other countries in the Mekong region are still developing new modern techniques.

Lao's limited capacity to monitor, investigate, and prosecute wildlife crime makes the country vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers. PELTS helps close that gap by offering law enforcement access to state-of-the-art technology and forensic evidence to support investigations and prosecutions of wildlife crime. UNODC continues to work with TRACE and the international community to support Lao PDR in its effort to combat transnational wildlife crime.