Identifying Commonly Trafficked Species and Specimens

Identifying Ivory

Identifying whole or worked elephant tusks is often done morphologically due to its unique characteristics. Elephant ivory comes from the two modified upper incisors of an elephant. An African elephant tusk can grow up to 3.5 meters in length. Enamel is present on the tusk tip in young animals. However, it soon wears off with no replacement.  Dentine makes up 95% of the tusk. This sometimes displays as conentric bands. The outside of the tusk is covered in cementum. Cementum has a layered appearance.

A cross-section of an elephant tusk is round or oval. A polished cross-section of elephant ivory dentine displays uniquely characteristic Schreger lines. Schreger lines are also known as as cross-hatchings, engine turnings, or stacked chevrons. There are two categories of Schreger lines. The first are the outer Schreger lines. These are easy to see and are closest to the cementum. Secondly, we have inner Schreger lines. These are the faintly discernible lines around the tusk nerve pulp cavities.

Identifying Rhino Horn

One can identify a rhino horn through sample burning, scraping, using the light test, using an x-ray and by visual inspection or observation.

(a) Identification by sight

The first identification method a law enforcer should apply while in the field is visual inspection or observation. The first place to examine is the base of the horn. When examining this, you should pay attention to its shape. A real rhino horn has a deep concave profile at the base. The base of a rhino horn will also have a similar look and feel as the rest of the horn. The outer base of a rhino horn also has loose hair-like fibres.

One can also perform the light test. Real rhino horn has translucent characteristics. A certain amount of light will shine through if you apply a light of sufficient brightness such as a torch. Place the torch on any of the sides of the horn, and a soft glow will be visible. You can use this method whether or not you have a full rhino horn. In other words, it also works on smaller pieces of horn just as well.

A more sophsiticated method of identifying rhino horn is use of an x-ray. When you apply an x-ray machine, a real rhino horn  displays a consistent coloration throughout the x-ray image. This is because a real rhino horn has organic material.

(b) Identification by smell

If you are not sure after visual inspection, you can apply the other tests. For sample burning, remove a small piece of the horn and apply an open flame. The smell that emanates from the “real” rhino horn is very similar to that of burning hair. Alternatively, one can simply burn some of the hair-like fibres which are located at the base of a Rhino horn. These will provide a similar result. Scraping is another identification method that uses your sense of smell. Here, you scrape the horn with the sharp edge of a knife. In so doing, you clear a fresh surface. A natural or earth smell should emanate from a real rhino horn.

Identifying Pangolin Scales

Pangolins are the only mammal covered in scales. The scales are comprised of keratin, the same material as our hair and nails. The overlapping scales act as armour for its body and the face remains covered under the scale. The scales also have blade-like edges which are sharp and used for defence.  The scales on different regions of the body of a pangolin differ in frequency, size, and shape.

Identifying Cheetah Pelt

The cheetah is a spotted cat which has a small, rounded head, a short snout, black tear-like facial streaks, a deep chest, long thin legs and a long tail. The coat is typically tawny to creamy white or pale brownish-yellow (darker in the mid-back portion). The chin, throat and underparts of the legs and the belly are white and devoid of markings. The rest of the cheetah’s body has around 2,000 evenly spaced, oval or round solid black spots, each measuring roughly 3–5 cm.

Identifying Bush Meat

In some cases, it is relatively easy to identify bushmeat especially when the whole fresh carcass is available. In the majority of cases however, it is difficult to identify bushmeat, especially where the carcass is skinned, deboned and the meat cut into small pieces. This is becoming a very frequent way to transport illegal bush meat, because it is easier to handle and also more difficult to be identified by law enforcement. However, there are some features that can indicate whether the meat is actually bushmeat and which species it belongs to. The following criteria should be helpful in identifying bushmeat:

  1. A whole or partial carcass is present
  2. A recognizable head
  3. Recognizable body parts or appendages
  4. Pelt or hair is present on the meat
  5. Skin or hide is present on the meat
  6. Bones are present in the meat

Where none of these morphological features are present in the meat, the only sure way of identifying the species is through DNA analysis.

Author: DidiWamukoya

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *