The use of DNA identification in prosecuting wildlife-traffickers in Australia: do the penalties fit the crimes?
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- Johnson, R.N. Forensic Sci Med Pathol (2010) 6: 211. doi:10.1007/s12024-010-9174-9
The use of genetic identification techniques in wildlife forensic investigations has increased significantly in recent years. The utilization of DNA is especially important when species identification using other methods are inconclusive. Australia has strict laws against illegal importation of wildlife as well as laws to protect its unique biodiversity from pests and diseases of quarantine concern. Two separate case studies in which genetic identification was essential for species identification are presented—the first involved illegally held shark fins, the second illegally imported live bird eggs. In the latter case genetic identification enabled charges to be laid for illegal importation of CITES Appendix I species. Australian laws allow for some of the highest penalties for illegal trade of wildlife compared to other countries, however only a fraction of cases are prosecuted and penalties applied to date have been lower than the maximum permitted. Both of the reported cases resulted in fines, and one in imprisonment of the offender, which provides a persuasive precedent for future prosecutions.