Leonardo Zavattaro/Telam/AP
Buenos Aires, Argentina

DNA From Steaks, Sausages Used to Nab Cattle Thieves

January 02, 2009 10:58 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Police in Argentina, a top beef exporter, are using genetic testing on various meats to cross-reference stolen cows.

Cattle DNA Database To Be Expanded

Cattle rustling has long been a problem in Argentina’s Pamplas plains, known for high-quality beef from free-range, grass-fed cattle.

Police there plan to expand a database of genetic samples from 10,000 cattle that has helped them solve 270 cases since it was created seven years ago. The database makes it possible for police to test steaks and sausages from stolen animals and cross-reference the genetic information with samples of hair, blood or flesh kept in the system, making it easier to prove that theft has occurred, and to identify thieves.

“The police always knew who it was … but there was no evidence that could prove it,” said Pilar Peral Garcia, director of the Genetic Veterinary Institute, which manages the database, to Reuters. Cattle thieves were previously able to take advantage of loose monitoring and the large size of some landholdings.

Background: Animal DNA as a crime-solving tool

Scientists are finding more and more applications for animal DNA testing.

In Israel, a Tel Aviv suburb is using DNA testing to identify dog owners who fail to clean up after their dogs. The program requires all pet owners to take their animal to the vet, where their DNA is collected, so that the city can build a DNA database to match feces to registered dogs.

In 2007 The Economist reported that geneticists have studied DNA from seal penises, elephant dung and smashed ivory, among other animal parts, to combat poaching. Genetic detectives have been able to track poached items to their source, such as Samuel Wasser of the University of Washington in Seattle, who found with colleagues and Interpol members that many ivory tusks originated in a single place in a Zambian savannah, and were able to convince the country to impose harsher punishments on smugglers. Geneticists have also used their work to prove that buyers of illegal animal parts or exotic animals are often swindled. In the 1990s, a group of Canadian researchers purchased seal penises, prized for their value as an aphrodisiac, from all parts of the world, and found that about every third specimen actually belonged to cattle, water buffalo or other animals.

In 2000, CNN reported that genetic testing was being used to track grizzly bears in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Scientists said that they were using samples of bear hair and bear scat, collected from trees that grizzlies rub against, as well as baited barbed wire, to collect DNA samples without requiring human contact with the actual animals themselves.

Related Topics: Other forms of animal tracking

In addition to DNA, microchips or other electronic tracking devices have been a boon in tracking both wild and domesticated animals, but for a variety of aims.

Tiny microchips implanted under an animal’s skin are gaining popularity among pet owners to prevent theft or loss, reported the Sioux City Journal in March. The chips do not enable the live tracking of a dog’s movements, but rather contain information about the dog and its owner that can be read by veterinarians so found dogs can be returned.

The state of Colorado in 2004 started using microchip implants to keep track of dogs deemed dangerous to the public. The chips contain a code that can be matched to a national database to find a dog’s owner.

In October, it was reported that a conservation park in Kenya had started to implant mobile phone cards in elephants’ collars that would send warnings by text message when the animals approached farms. The SIM cards make use of a global positioning sytem, and are designed to prevent crop-raiding by the elephants.

Rubber ducks are merely plastic animals, but tracking the movements of one rubber duckie flock is nevertheless helping researchers study water flow in Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier. In September, NASA scientists sent 90 rubber duckies and a special probing device into the glacier.

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