Police in Addis Ababa have struck a blow to the illegal trade in rhino horn, in an
unprecedented international operation involving the Ethiopian authorities,
TRACE wildlife forensics network, and the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI)
In a covert operation in late 2019, police seized what they believed to be a rhino
horn. The penalties in Ethiopia for illegal wildlife trafficking are severe, but first
the authorities needed to prove that the seizure was indeed rhino horn.
The federal police passed the specimen to the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation
Authority (EWCA) who now faced the challenge of providing watertight evidence
in order to prosecute the suspected traffickers.
The director of the EWCA’s trafficking department, Daniel Pawlos, made contact
with Greta Iori, the EPI Foundation’s representative for the Horn of Africa,
setting off a chain of events that led to the first forensic testing in Ethiopia of an
illegally trafficked rhino horn.
Iori contacted Ross McEwing of TRACE, which runs a portable enforcement
laboratory for testing seizures (PELTS) funded by the wildlife and forest crime
programme of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC).
Earlier this month, Ewing brought a portable laboratory to Addis Ababa where
he and Iori proceeded to extract DNA samples from the horn. They also carried
out a one-day training event for police, customs officials, the EWCA and staff
from the Attorney General’s office.
The results of the DNA sequence were clear: the specimen was from the horn of a
white rhino (ceratotherium simum). This information is being passed on to the
EWCA and will provide crucial evidence for a forthcoming prosecution.
“This sends a message that Ethiopia is serious about dismantling the illegal
wildlife trade from and through our country,” said Iori. “Knowing that forensic
analysis can now be conducted in country will hopefully deter poachers and