Wildlife forensic science

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Wildlife forensic science is the application of a range of scientific disciplines to legal cases involving non-human biological evidence.[1][2] These disciplines include genetics,[3][4] morphology,[5][6] chemistry, pathology, and veterinary sciences.[7] Although some of these disciplines are also used to investigate human crime (see Forensic science), wildlife forensic science requires its own specialized skills and techniques. The diverse array of wildlife forensic practitioners’ disciplines worldwide is represented in the Society for Wildlife Forensic Science (SWFS).

Wildlife forensic cases often involve the taking of protected plant and animal species for the illegal wildlife trade, poaching of trophy and game animals, and wildlife mortality caused by oil spills. Other examples include animal cruelty, bio-terrorism, and the analysis of animal hairs and other trace evidence in human crimes such as burglary, rape, and homicide.

Wildlife forensic scientists must develop and validate the tools to identify an increasing variety of species and apply them in a manner that will withstand judicial scrutiny. These analysts are commonly called upon to perform species identification, cause of death determination, the identification of pesticides and poisons, and to link individual animals to wildlife crime scenes.

Wildlife forensic laboratories and organizations[edit]

In the United States, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and a number of state agencies maintain forensic laboratories dedicated to wildlife crimes, providing analytical services and expert witness testimony. The National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory of the US Fish and Wildlife Service also acts as the designated analytical facility for the INTERPOL Wildlife Crime Working Group and the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

With the initiative of the Society for Wildlife Forensic Science (SWFS), the Scientific Working Group for Wildlife Forensic Sciences (SWGWILD) was formed in 2011. SWGWILD brings together wildlife forensic science experts to standardize and promulgate best practices across the diverse species and evidence types unique to this field. SWGWILD complements the activities of the other US Scientific Working Groups in Forensic Sciences, which are supported by the National Institute of Justice and the FBI. SWGWILD provides representation of forensic issues that are unique to this field, particularly DNA and morphological analysis of non-human evidence.

Scope of wildlife forensics[edit]

The variety of evidence in wildlife forensic cases is vast, potentially encompassing the entire biodiversity of the planet. It can range from a van full of boots made from the hides of endangered sea turtles, to shipments of elephant tusks, coral jewelry,[8] and shark fins, to trophy elk, oil-soaked birds,[9] wild ginseng, or blood from a dog fighting pit. In cases of seafood fraud, evidence can consist of an entire vessel-load of frozen fish.[10][11] Wildlife forensic science deals with activities – including illegal traffic in protected wildlife, illegal, unregulated, and unreported fisheries, and the illegal timber trade – whose potential value has been estimated to total up to $50 billion a year.[12][13][14] Taken together, these activities comprise the third largest form of illegal international trade, after drugs and weapons.



While animals and plants are the victims in the crimes of illegal wildlife trade and animal abuse, society also pays a heavy price when those crimes are used to fund illegal drugs, weapons and terrorism. Links between human trafficking, public corruption and illegal fishing have also been reported.[15] The continued development and integration of wildlife forensic science as a field will be critical for successful management of the many significant social and conservation issues related to the illegal wildlife trade and wildlife law enforcement.


Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Huffman, J.E. and J.R. Wallace. 2012. Wildlife Forensics: Methods and Applications. Wiley-Blackwell
  2. ^ Neme, Laurel A. 2009. Animal Investigators: How the World’s First Wildlife Forensics Lab is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species. Scribner Publishing
  3. ^ Ogden, Rob, Nick Dawnay, and Ross McEwing. 2009. Wildlife DNA forensics – bridging the gap between conservation genetics and law enforcement. Endangered Species Research 9:179-195
  4. ^ Alacs, E.A., A. Georges, N.N. FitzSimmons and J. Robertson. 2010. DNA detective: a review of molecular approaches to wildlife forensics. Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology 6(3):180-194
  5. ^ Espinoza, Edgard O., and Mary-Jacque Mann. 2000. Identification Guide for Ivory and Ivory Substitutes, 3rd edition. Ivory Identification Incorporated, Richmond, VA
  6. ^ Yates, Bonnie C., Edgard O. Espinoza, and Barry W. Baker. 2010. Forensic species identification of elephant (Elephantidae) and giraffe (Giraffidae) tail hair using light microscopy. Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology 6(3):165-171
  7. ^ Cooper, John E., and Margaret E. Cooper. 2007. Introduction to Veterinary and Comparative Forensic Medicine. Blackwell Publishing
  8. ^ Espinoza, Edgard O., Michael D. Scanlan, Pamela J. McClure, and Barry W. Baker. 2011. Forensic analysis of black coral (Order Antipatharia). Forensic Science International; published on-line 17 September 2011
  9. ^ Trail, P.W. 2006. Avian mortality at oil pits in the United States: a review of the problem and efforts for its solution. Environmental Management 38: 532-544
  10. ^ Ogden, R. 2008. Fisheries forensics: the use of DNA tools for improving compliance, traceability and enforcement in the fishing industry. Fish and Fisheries 9: 462-472
  11. ^ Welch, C. 2010. Shell Games: Rogues, Smugglers, and the Hunt for Nature's Bounty. William Morrow Publishing
  12. ^ U.S. Department of State. 2009. Against wildlife trafficking: working together to end the illegal trade in wildlife. Fact Sheet. Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
  13. ^ Warchol, A. 2004. The transnational illegal wildlife trade. Criminal Justice Studies 17:57-73
  14. ^ Zimmerman, M. 2003. The black market for wildlife: combating transnational organized crime in the illegal wildlife trade. Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 36:1657-1689
  15. ^ US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 2009. Trafficking and extortion of Burmese migrants in Malaysia and Southern Thailand: a report to the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate. Washington, DC

General References[edit]

Baker, B.W. 2008. A brief overview of forensic herpetology. Applied Herpetology 5: 307-318.

Cooper, John E., and Margaret E. Cooper. 2007. Introduction to Veterinary and Comparative Forensic Medicine. Blackwell Publishing.

Huffman, J.E. and J.R. Wallace. 2012. Wildlife Forensics: Methods and Applications. Wiley-Blackwell.

Neme, Laurel A. 2009. Animal Investigators: How the World’s First Wildlife Forensics Lab is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species. Scribner Publishing.

Welch, C. 2010. Shell Games: Rogues, Smugglers, and the Hunt for Nature's Bounty. William Morrow Publishing.


External links[edit]

INTERPOL Wildlife Crime Working Group [1]

National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory [2]

NOAA Marine Forensics Program [3]

Society for Wildlife Forensic Science (SWFS) [4]

Article on SWGWILD (the Scientific Working Group for Wildlife Forensics) [5]