Hanoi, Viet Nam – In a groundbreaking case that highlights the growing importance of DNA analysis in wildlife crime prosecution, a local officer in northern Viet Nam was sentenced to 36 months in prison for killing, boiling, and processing tiger parts in violation of the country’s wildlife conservation and protection regulations.
The case, which unfolded in early 2022, not only resulted in the conviction of the main perpetrator but also shed light on the crucial role forensic laboratories play in bringing wildlife criminals to justice.
On January 6, 2022, Thai Nguyen police apprehended Mr. Ngo Van Quan while he was in the act of killing a tiger. Authorities discovered tiger bone, skin, meat, limbs, bone glue, and bile at the scene, all suspected to be derived from the tiger. At the time of the discovery, Mr. Quan was the chairman of Tien Phong Commune in Pho Yen City, Thai Nguyen Province, Viet Nam.
Tigers, as apex predators on top of the food chain, hold a critical ecological role and are essential for maintaining the balance and integrity of their ecosystems. Unfortunately, their population in the wild is rapidly declining, with an estimated 4,500 tigers remaining. Poaching remains the primary threat to tigers, driven by a lucrative $20 billion per year  industry that sees various tiger parts used for traditional medicine and as symbols of status and wealth in Asian countries.
Although some countries have established tiger breeding farms, the demand for wild tigers remains high, and the species continues to be laundered through these facilities.
After Mr. Quan’s arrest, law enforcement turned to Viet Nam’s wildlife forensic laboratory, located at the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources (IEBR) in Hanoi, for help. The IEBR laboratory has gained recognition for its invaluable support to wildlife law enforcement, handling nearly 200 wildlife crime cases in 2021 despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With assistance from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), UNODC, and the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), the IEBR laboratory has transformed into an internationally-recognized wildlife forensic facility, successfully achieving a high compliance to international wildlife forensic standards through an independent assessment by the US-based Society for Wildlife Forensic Science.
Additionally, IEBR staff are receiving continuous mentoring from the TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network, an organization specializing in the development, dissemination, and implementation of forensic tools to help tackle wildlife crime.
In the case of Mr. Quan, the IEBR laboratory analysed the samples and confirmed the meat exhibits originated from a tiger (Panthera tigris). Although the DNA in the bone glue was irreversibly damaged during the cooking process and could not be identified, the evidence was substantial enough to secure a three-year prison sentence on charges of violating regulations on endangered, precious, and rare species of wild animals. His accomplices were also convicted.
The case marked yet another successful prosecution based on evidence confirmed by the IEBR laboratory. From 2019-2022, many convictions were secured using IEBR’s support to forensic analysis, mostly concerning the trafficking of rhino horn and pangolin scales.
DNA analysis has become a significant cornerstone in investigations and case development to support the prosecution of wildlife crime cases with sound evidence. Samples taken from confiscated specimens can assist with species identification, informing law enforcers whether the species is locally or internationally protected, enabling the application of appropriate sanctions.
Mr. Nguyen Giang Son, manager of the IEBR wildlife forensics laboratory, expressed pride in the laboratory's contribution in the fight against wildlife crime. “We are proud to provide the prosecution with the evidence needed to secure the conviction of wildlife criminals. Our team firmly believes in the meaningful purpose of our work, and we owe our enhanced facilities and certification to our partners’ valuable support," shared Mr. Son.
Ms. Jenna Dawson-Faber, UNODC Environment Team's Regional Coordinator for Asia-Pacific, also commended the work of the IEBR laboratory and the use of DNA analysis to secure convictions. “DNA analysis is the most reliable way to definitively identify a species, especially in cases where confiscated wildlife products can no longer be reliably identified based on their physical appearance. We are proud to have played a role in IEBR’s increased capacity and look forward to seeing its continued success," shared Ms. Dawson-Faber.
Click here to learn more about UNODC’s Global Programme on Crimes that Affect the Environment.
Click here to learn more about TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network.
For further information on our work, you may contact our Asia Pacific Coordinator, Ms. Jenna Dawson-Faber at unodc-wlfc[@]un.org