Police Wildlife Crime Officer's (WCO) network exisits in the UK and is part of the National Wildlife Crime Intelligence Unit (NWCIU). Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) and Forensics Working Group (FWG) are also associated with UK wildlife crime enforcement.
The use of forensics (application of scientific knowledge to legal matters) is often used in wildlife crime cases as it can supply high quality eveidence that leads to a prosecution.
Issues featuring regularly in these cases are:
1) what is the identity of the specimen in question?
2) what is the provenance of the specimen in question?
3) what is the cause of death ?
4) can a suspect be connected to a wildlife crime scene?
Evidence Collected at a Crime Scene
The investigator must;
- avoid cross contamination
- establish what would be the most useful type of evidence to obtain
Types of Evidence;
1) Fingerprints: Collected from suitable surfaces or on items potentially handled by a suspect.
2) Fibres, hairs, & fur: Fibres may be transferred from clothing or items used in commision of an offence.
3) Footwear, tyre, & instrument marks: Vehicles, tools & instruments feature in a variety of wildlife offences.
4) Miscellaneous traces & glass samples: This covers a range of materials which may have been transferred from a crime scene to a suspect or items in their possesion.
5) Questioned documents & digital records: This is in relation to documents that have been forged or altered to disguise the origin of items held illegally.
The following techniques are used to analyse such evidence;
- Video spectral comparator (VSC): Questioned items are examined under infared & ultra-violet (UV) light which can visualise previously unseen features.
- Electrostatic Document analyser (ESDA): Used to examine indented impressions on subsequent pages of a writing surface and provides a transparancy record of the indented mark.
- Digital forensics: This is the examination of any digitally stored records & information.
6) Firearms: The National Firearms Forensic Intelligence Database (NFFID) & Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS) can compare components of fired ammunition for outstanding crimes & recovered weapons. A manual comparisson of specific cartridge cases & bullets is also conducted.
DNA profiling examines a tiny proportion of the DNA sequence of an individual. The technique focusses on parts of the sequence known to cary between individuals. Various analytical techniques are used:
- multi-locus probe (MLP)
- single locus probe (SLP)
- short tandem repeat (STR) analyis
Wildlife crime scenes should be examined for sources of human DNA, e.g cigarette butts, chewing gum, drinks cans, blood stains due to handling animals or tools, saliva from envelopes or stamps, etc.
DNA can also be used for the following;
- parentage test: to determine the parentage of a specimen that is claimed to have been captively bred.
- to identify species: useful when investigating parts or derivatives of species where morphological methods are limited.
Wildlife Poisoning & Pesticide Analysis
Agricultural chemicals can be used deliberately & illegally to poison animals. Poisoning incidents fall into 3 categories:
1) Approved use of the product & poisoning occurs as an accidental result
2) Misuse of a product e.g failure to clear up a spillage, incorrect storage, etc.
3) Abuse of a pesticide in a deliberate, illegal attempt to poison wildlife.
THE PLACING OF ANY POISONED BAIT IN THE OPEN COUNTRYSIDE IS ILLEGAL
Forensic techniques are available to detect the presence of residues from tissues of poisoned animals or baits used. Any suspected poisoned baits or victims should be photographed on site before disturbance. If suspected victims cannot be submitted quickly for post-mortem they should be refrigerated as a pose to being frozen. Analysis may not be easy as often the chemical is unknown & the amount present can vary. Sometimes analysis can be based on information gleaned at the incident scene e.g species & no. affected, discarded containers etc. Post mortem findings may include lesions which point to the chemical involved.
Forensic Veterinary Pathology
Forensic veterinary pathology can be defined as the study of disease or injury to animals for use in legal proceedings. The vet must be neutral and provide a clear account of any injuries found and present an unbiased opinion on how injuries occured.
Analysis of Samples
Presence of certain bacteria or parasites can be indicative of the animals origin. Many animals carry parasites such as worms or ticks that do not survive once their hosts are taken from the wild. Presence of such parasites can counter claims of captive breeding or domestic origin. Collection of samples such as faeces, feathers, or pellets may provide important evidence. The condition of the animal e.g stage or moult, behaviour, length of claws etc. may indicate how long an animal was held in captivity. Radiography can determine whether an animal was shot.
Wildlife crime news stories in the UK: