How Kenya’s New Wildlife Forensic and Genetics Lab Will Help Save Wildlife

A KWS laboratory technician demonstrates how an equipment in the forensic and genetic laboratory works. Looking  on Kenya's cabinet secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Judi Wakhungu ( centre), and Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya, James Christoff. Photo credit: KWS

By Fredrick Nzwili

In Kenya, poaching of wildlife for bush meat, trophies such as rhino horns and elephant tusks, skins of animals, feathers of birds, as well as illegal trafficking in animals for the pet trade such as rare chameleons and parrots, has reached epic proportions.

While many suspects of these crimes have been arrested, they often elude punishment because concrete, scientific evidence that would result in prosecutions and convictions isn’t available.

This is bound to change following the launch of a forensic and genetic laboratory last month at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) headquarters in Nairobi.

The laboratory—the first of its kind in East Africa—is expected to aid in the provision of accurate identification of seized wildlife and wildlife products in order to bring to justice perpetrators of wildlife crimes.

Kenya’s cabinet secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Judi Wakhungu ( center), and Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya, James Christoff, are shown how one of the pieces of equipment works. Photo credit: Kenya Wildlife Service

Francis Gakuya, the head of KWS’s veterinary service department, who will coordinate the new laboratory, explains how it will make it possible to convict more wildlife poachers, what other work will be done there, and the main challenges it faces.

Francis Gakuya , the head of KWS veterinary service department during the interview on May 8. Photo credit Fredrick Nzwili.
Francis Gakuya , the head of the Kenya Wildlife Service’s veterinary department, is in charge of the new forensics lab.
Photo credit: Fredrick Nzwili

Why did KWS decide to establish a forensic and genetic lab?

We started thinking about a forensic laboratory about 15 years ago. By then, how to differentiate between common meat and bush meat was proving a challenge. We knew wild animals were being slaughtered for their —> Read More