RhODIS® (Rhino DNA Index System)

International trade in wildlife-derived products like rhino horn is illegal. However, this a difficult crime about which to gather evidence, because it is challenging to link a specific animal to a product sold on the black market. This is where RhODIS comes in. RhODIS stands for Rhino DNA Index System, and is a project initiated by the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory of the University of Pretoria to help trace trafficked goods to individual incidences and establish genetic evidence of poaching that could be used in forensic trials. 

DNA samples of rhinos, poached and living, are collected and a unique genetic marker is created for each living rhino, much like a genetic fingerprint. When trafficked rhino parts are intercepted, the DNA can be sampled and compared to the database. RhODIS is essentially able to prove that the parts came from poaching, which is valuable evidence for trials. The first successful conviction came in 2010, with a Vietnamese man being sentenced to 10 years in prison for poaching. The value of the collecting rhino’s DNA is so important that the makers of RhODIS partnered with the South African Department of Environmental Affairs to create kits that are disseminated to rangers who can use them whenever needed. Widespread use does appear to be isolated to South Africa, which means that there are still gaps in the database for rhinos who are not within South Africa’s boundaries, but it is an encouraging beginning for this DNA database that has been growing since 2004. 

O’Brien, S. J., Harper, C. K., Ludwig, A., Clarke, A., Makgopela, K., Yurchenko, A. A., … & van Heerden, M. (2018). Impeding the rhinoceros surge of slaughter in southern Africa with DNA genetic forensic matching.

Harper, C., Ludwig, A., Clarke, A., Makgopela, K., Yurchenko, A., Guthrie, A., … & Hofmeyr, M. (2018). Robust forensic matching of confiscated horns to individual poached African rhinoceros.


Biodiversity, Data, Ecological Monitoring, Illegal Resource Extraction, Internet of Things, Monitoring, Regulation