In many African countries accurate and reliable identification of poached wildlife products like carcasses or meat presents a big problem when morphological characters such as skin hair or bones are missing. We describe a molecular based approach that has a potential of serving as a forensic tool in game meat identification in Africa. A mitochondial DNA marker (mt700) and one restriction enzyme, Rsa1 were used in the PCR-RFLP species identification of game meat obtained from two National Parks in Tanzania. Species-specific reference DNA fragment patterns were obtained using fresh meat from ten wildlife and four domesticated species. All species except the zebra, produced unique monomorphic RFLP patterns. Collectively, these patterns demonstrate the potential ability of genetic techniques for discriminating between and among wildlife and domestic species. The reference PCR-RFLP fragments enabled species identification of about 79% of unknown meat samples. In addition, sex was also assigned to all of the samples following successful amplification of gender-specific, SRY and ZFY/X, chromosomal domains. Although the present study has been conducted on a limited range both in numbers and genetic diversity of wildlife species present in Africa, the results demonstrate the potential usefulness of the DNA approach in wildlife forensics in the continent.
Key words: Mitochondrial DNA, PCR, poaching, forensic, gender, species identification.
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