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Aaranyak’s Wildlife Genetics Lab celebrates decade of DNA forensic excellence

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HT Bureau

GUWAHATI, July 10: The Wildlife Genetics Laboratory (WGL) at Aaranyak, the only such facility in North East India, has been providing wildlife DNA forensic analysis services in Assam for ten years with success.

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The laboratory has provided its services in over a hundred cases in the state of Assam, besides several cases in other states as well, thereby offering significant assistance in wildlife crime investigation in the region.

During this period, the laboratory has provided a range of DNA analysis services, including the identification of wildlife species from morphologically indistinguishable biological material, forensic individual matching through DNA fingerprinting of rhinos, elephants, tigers, leopards, and parentage testing of captive elephant calves.

In 2012, the WGL of Aaranyak became the first laboratory in the world to successfully use DNA fingerprinting for individual identification of greater one-horned rhinos in the wild and use this technique for population estimation as well as forensic investigations.

The laboratory has developed a genetic database of rhinos in the country, which allows the identification of the source of origin of any rhino sample, such as confiscated horns, providing crucial inputs to rhino-related crime investigations.

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“Along with providing training and on-the-ground support for DNA sampling, we plan to keep supporting wildlife forensic DNA investigations in Assam and other north-eastern states,” says Udayan Borthakur, a senior scientist at Aaranyak and the founder head of its Wildlife Genetics Division.

“We also express our gratitude to the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change, government of India, Assam government, as well as other state forest departments for enabling us to work in this field,” Borthakur added.

It is noteworthy that WGL, which was founded in 2008, was granted permission to collect biological samples from Scheduled I species under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, by the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change in 2009. The laboratory has been working on several major conservation genetic research projects on threatened wildlife species since 2009. The Assam Forest Department approved WGL’s services in 2014 for forensic DNA analysis and wildlife genetics inside the state.

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