Wildlife Forensics: A Complete Overview

Wildlife forensics has emerged as a crucial tool for implementing laws about the illegal trade of endangered and protected animals. The ability to pinpoint the geographic origin of a material that has been seized is a relatively recent addition to this branch of forensic research.  The trade-in timber, fish, and ivory are prominent examples of this, and they are merely used to highlight the vast array of species for which this kind of testing may be feasible.

Today, forensic investigators are using their skills to look into wildlife crime, including illegal hunting, poaching, transportation, trade, and the use of guaranteed wildlife and its offspring. It supports the efforts of inspectors and enforcement officers who safeguard threatened and endangered species. Specialists in wildlife forensics carry out a variety of duties when looking into wildlife crimes in India, including collecting evidence from crime scenes, examining weapons, and establishing the cause of death.

They pursue cases including smuggling, poaching, and unlawful hunting. Who is responsible for looking into the multi-billion dollar international illegal market for animal specimens such as hides, skins, eggs, and organs? To fight the demon of wildlife crime, several countries have enacted harsher legislation, instituted total trade restrictions, and forged agreements with other countries and international organizations like Interpol. Similar to the illegal drug trade, resourceful criminals will find a means to supply the commodities if there is a market for illegal wildlife products or parts and a lot of money to be made.

They can also look into the tools that were used to harm or kill the animals, as well as the specifics of the crime. To investigate and prosecute offenses, wildlife forensics investigators can gather evidence and interact with wildlife inspectors, fish and game rangers, and law enforcement officials.

The foundation of research in animal forensic laboratories is the comparison of unknown crime scene materials with known ones, just like in human forensic labs. Before evaluating the evidence in a case, forensics frequently has to create new species and identify traits by meticulously recording known specimens. Then, and only then, can wildlife forensics begin to apply forensics’ concepts and methods, which is where the issue first arises?

A few instances highlight the significance of this field. Wildlife forensics examines a wide spectrum of criminal cases. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation are frequently needed for poaching operations. Catching animals involved in assaults on humans and investigating wildlife violations like poaching are among Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s saddest routine tasks. Poaching, also known as the execution of wild animals protected from hunting laws, is one of the most extreme offenses investigated by untamed life forensic experts.

Legal researchers may be required to begin their analysis by looking for indicators to confirm whether a specific wildlife article is a genuine or phony issue, a task that is frequently encountered in the illegal wildlife trade unless it is successfully determined by a trained wildlife examiner. However, Colorado’s wildlife can have large home ranges, making it challenging to tell one bear from another or link suspects to unlawful hunting activities.

The National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory’s goal is to assist game wardens, conservation officers, and exceptional wildlife agents all over the world with their forensic needs. Veterinary pathologists are in charge of identifying the cause of animal death in wildlife crime laboratories. Advocates have been requesting federal money since the lab was founded in the 1980s to use DNA—which is increasingly used in human forensics—to identify those responsible for animal crimes. When CPW authorities require assistance, the organization goes to the National Wildlife Crime Lab in Washington, D.C.

When used on wildlife crime scenes, a scientific unique mark analysis enables researchers to show that a suspect handled the weapon, trap, knife, vehicle, or any other item suspected of having been used in the commission of the crime under consideration. In 1965, Wyoming established the first combined laboratory for wildlife management and wildlife science in US.

The training to use against wildlife crime with the Wildlife Conservation Trust, India, will assist in combat the developing difficulties in wildlife crime. Being a properly trained professional working in wildlife conservation, ecology, and animal protection would also help.

For the many important social and conservation issues connected to the illegal wildlife trade and wildlife law enforcement to be properly managed, the area of wildlife forensic science must continue to develop and be integrated. To prepare for the challenging task of identifying illegal animals and wildlife goods, the Center will put up a dedicated limit-building component for implementation personnel. In the discipline of wildlife forensic science, administration conveyance is frequently specially appointed, awkward, and unregulated. But many people who are currently working to conserve wildlife and safeguard endangered species make an effort to maintain the highest standards.

Any animal part can be used as evidence in a wildlife forensic lab, including blood and tissue samples, remains, hair, teeth, bones, paws, claws, tusks, coverings, hide, quills, and stomach contents. Additionally, it contains a large dermestid beetle population, which helps remove flesh from bones when it receives roadkill or zoo contributions. Dermestid beetles are used in the lab to clean a wolf carcass’s remains. They often strip down deep into animal corpses to find injuries and determine the cause of death. To establish how an animal died and to differentiate between natural death and human slaughter, pathologists inspect carcasses for wounds. In doing so, the pathologist also conducts a related search for signs of disease vectors that may reveal a distinctive cause of death.

The evidence are compared with diverse biological, chemical, physical, and physical-and-biological evidence using a variety of scientific techniques and tools to connect crime scenes and victims with physical evidence.

wildlife forensics pug mark

Wildlife crime, law enforcement, conservation, wildlife, and crime scene investigation should all be included in a bachelor’s degree. Advanced expertise and training will give candidates access to a variety of instruments and equipment as well as a solid understanding of the scientific method. Additionally, forensic scientists need to be proficient in the use of lab instruments and computer-assisted tools.

Investigational inquiries in wildlife Forensics

Wildlife forensics development and application must be driven by enforcement needs, addressing the essential issues or points to prove in an investigation. The exact investigation inquiries pertaining to an evidence item are usually situation specific, but can be summarised as follows:

  • Does it match to a particular individual? 
  • What kind of animal is it?
  • What is its age?
  • From where did it come?
  • Was it collected from the wild?   

Forensic Science’s Role in Wildlife Investigations

Although it is still a relatively new field, using forensic science to support wildlife investigations is gaining popularity, particularly in places with limited resources. Forensics has gained prominence in natural resource exploitation and control, in part because of recent discoveries and studies into the usefulness of DNA in poaching cases. It is a science that can be used to investigate animal and environmental crimes as well as crimes committed by people.

The broad definition of wildlife forensics is the use of science to legal issues affecting biological resources. More specifically, in these kinds of investigations, forensic science can be used to track and identify criminals by using evidentiary analysis, whether it is DNA, trace evidence like hair or feathers, animal tracks, classification of animal products or imported, exported, or traded goods, or the straightforward understanding of what constitutes uncontested demonstrative evidence. These factors are frequently disregarded, neglected, or incorrectly evaluated.

When and if these kinds of lawsuits even reach the courts, they are requiring an increasing amount of unquestionable evidence. For individuals whose duty it is to fight these types of crimes, many of whom have little training or experience, education and teaching in proper crime scene processing, recognition of significant case variables, and what to do with evidence once it is located are crucial. Giving this knowledge to individuals responsible for protecting nature could be essential to preserving biodiversity and fundamental resource sustainability.

While the use of forensics in wildlife and environmental crime is not the sole answer, it can be seen as one weapon in the arsenal of species protection. The long-term survival of the intrinsic value of our ecosystem and natural environment may depend on it.

Also Read: Pugmark Examination

DNA analysis in wildlife forensics

Conservation genetics has been a crucial technique for solving issues in species conservation over the last two to three decades. Numerous fields, including population genetics, molecular phylogenetics, taxonomy, and phylogeography, can benefit from its use.

The development of analytical techniques to provide solid DNA-based evidence to help conservation law enforcement, or “wildlife DNA forensics,” is a recognized topic of conservation genetics that is currently gaining interest. The field of wildlife forensics deals with the identification of material seized to determine the sample’s source population, species, and individual identity or relationship.

However, there are difficulties with wildlife forensics. DNA forensics has emerged as a key investigative tool to stop wildlife crime despite the implementation of national and international legislation to safeguard degraded habitats, conserve biological species variety, and ensure the long-term survival of animals.

A connection between the offender and the wildlife species can now be established thanks to the rapid evolution of molecular techniques over the past few decades. Forensic researchers can now extract genomic DNA from small remains or large quantities of biological samples left at the scene of a crime.

This technology has been used by forensic experts to track the illegal ivory trade and to identify the population responsible for whale flesh seized from Japanese markets and body parts of Bengal tigers. Wildlife DNA forensics is effective, particularly in isolated wilderness areas and the marine environment where it is difficult to detect poaching of protected or endangered species.

It was determined through DNA testing by forensic wildlife specialists that the roe wasn’t the Russian Sewruga listed on the paddlefish label. Wildlife forensics compared DNA from an antelope’s skull in the suspect’s possession with DNA from a carcass after the suspect was still in custody.

The Wyoming Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Forensics Center continues to house the gathering of DNA samples from diverse species. During a specified hunting season, it is prohibited to kill migratory birds before dawn or after dusk, as well as to kill the majority of animals the day before a specified hunting season. Legal hunting may continue to be limited to taking particular animals during a designated hunting season or inside a designated hunting region using specific tools (archery, black-powder rifles). One animal of a particular species may be legally killed during a designated hunting season, but not more than one. During a specific hunting season, it may be acceptable to hunt in a wildlife refuge that is under federal protection, but it may be prohibited to do so on nearby private land.

A typical instance is when a mountain lion was imprisoned for a while before being killed in an unauthorized “canned” hunt.

Typically, a series of immunological tests designed to narrow the range of possible results to the species involving a single family are used to determine the family, genus, or species of an ambiguous tissue (e.g., bears -Family Ursidae, or deer-Family Cervidae). Furthermore, the requirement that there be “no other species in the world” makes it extremely difficult to determine the species from which a wildlife part or product originated, especially given that there are more than 4629 species of mammals, 9682 species of birds, and 7962 species of reptiles.

The definitions are nearly usually predicated on knowing the country of origin (particularly for subspecies) and having the entire animal available for examination, even though underlying definitions for all of these species exist in the form of morphological or genetic “keys.”

 Study of isotopes in wildlife forensics

It is frequently necessary to determine the geographic origin of the sample in addition to species identification from unidentified wildlife samples. The analysis of the elemental profiles of samples is another accurate way of estimating the geographic origin of the samples, in addition to DNA-based methods for determining the potential geographical origin of samples. This is significant when a specific species is protected in one region but not in another, as well as when wild animals are kidnapped and sold as captive-bred pets.

An established technique for determining the geographic origin of wildlife samples is the comparison of the ratios of various isotopes using techniques like inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS). The geographic origins of the African rhinoceros horn have been extensively determined using variations in the concentration of elements and ratios of the isotopes. Additionally, laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) to measure the relative abundance of isotopes of different elements to determine the geographic origin of African rhinoceros horns. They also studied carbon and nitrogen isotopes using mass spectrometry.

Types of Organized crimes for an animal in India

The types of organized crimes that take place in India are:

▪ Shooting
▪ Snaring
▪ Poisoning
▪ Electrocuting

In the ferocious marketplaces, the animals and their body parts are utilised for a variety of uses. These purposes may include:

▪ Making exotic medicines
▪ For the pleasure of animal collectors
▪ On the demands of clothiers and fashion designers
▪ Fancy cuisine lovers

Indian wildlife species and products commonly smuggled out of the country are:

  • Tiger (26% of illegally traded wildlife products from India are from tigers)
  • Leopard skins, their bones, and other body parts
  • Rhino horns
  • Elephants tusk used for ivory and their hairtail
  • Turtles and tortoises
  • Sea horses
  • Snake venom
  • Mongoose hair
  • Snakeskins
  • Himalayan Black Bear’s bile
  • Musk Deer
  • The fur of Jackal and Wolf
  • Tibetan antelope
  • Otter skin

Wildlife Forensic and Conservation Genetic Cell (WFCG)

The Wildlife Forensic and Conservation Genetics (WFCG) Cell was founded by combining the Wildlife Forensic and Conservation Genetics Laboratories in order to properly execute India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act, of 1972.

Indian Legal Provisions Against Wildlife Crime

The Indian Constitution, Article 48A

This article establishes the fundamental concepts of State policy. It specifies that the state would work to maintain and develop the environment, as well as to protect the country’s forests and animals.

The Indian Constitution, Article 51A(g)

Fundamental obligations are enumerated in Article 51A(g) of the Indian Constitution. It is said that it is the responsibility of every Indian citizen to maintain and develop the natural environment, which includes forests, lakes, rivers, and animals. Every citizen must have compassion for all living things.

Wildlife Protection Act, 1972

To maintain ecological and biological security, the Act provides for the protection of the country’s wild animals, birds, and plant species. Many animal species are prohibited from being hunted under the Act. The Act was last updated in 2006.

The Wildlife Protection Act has six schedules. These are the schedules:

Schedule I- This Schedule addresses endangered species that require strict protection. Severe penalties are imposed for violating any of the laws listed in this Schedule. Hunting of the animals described in this section is illegal unless there is a threat to human life. Species are given absolute protection under this category. Tigers, blackbucks, Himalayan Brown Bears, brow-antlered deer, blue whales, common dolphins, cheetahs, clouded leopards, hornbills, and Indian Gazelle are among examples.

Schedule II- Animals on this list are also given special protection; trade is restricted, and hunting is prohibited unless there is a threat to human life. Kohinoor (insect), Assamese Macaque, Bengal Hanuman langur, Large Indian Civet, Indian Fox, Larger Kashmir Flying Squirrel, Kashmir Fox, and more species are examples.

Schedules III and IV are for species that are not listed as endangered. Although the species named here are protected, the punishment for any infraction under this schedule is less severe than under the previous two categories. Examples include hyenas, Himalayan rats, porcupines, flying foxes, and Malabar tree toads.

Schedule V- This schedule comprises hunting animals. Also known as vermin. Such as; Mice, rats, Common crows, Fruit bats, etc.

Schedule VI– This list contains plants that are forbidden from cultivation. These are the Pitcher plant, Blue vanda, Red vanda, Kuth, Beddome’s cycad, Ladies Slipper Orchid, etc.

Wildlife Crime Control Board

The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau was founded on September 4, 2006, by amending the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, in order to administer the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and to reduce the number of wildlife crimes. It began operations in 2008 and has its headquarters in Delhi. It has offices all around the country.

Sources & References

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