Wildlife Forensics

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Forensics is the application of natural and physical sciences to the resolution of legal matters.

Wildlife forensics applies scientifically–analyzed evidence to public discourses on legal issues involving wild animals.

An animal may be linked to evidence because the animal is the victim, the perpetrator or the witness.

The Forensics Unit of the ESU Wildlife DNA Laboratory focuses on the use of DNA analysis for the examination of evidence for a variety of legal issues involving wild animals.

This state–of–the–art DNA laboratory is capable of working with any biomaterials in the recovery and analysis of nucleic acids.

Methods of analysis are available for both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA.

Once DNA is recovered from the sample, a number of analytical methods may be applied to determine:

  • Species of origin
  • Gender
  • Single species or multiple species content in mixed sample
  • Individual identity
  • Parts matching
  • Identity matching
The resultant analysis can be used as evidence in the pursuit of criminal prosecution for the case. Samples that are submitted can be any biomaterial:
  • Tissue
  • Skin
  • Hair
  • Blood
  • Feather
  • Talon
  • Claw
  • Horn
  • Antler
  • Saliva
  • Bone
  • Tooth
  • Egg
  • Semen
  • Buccal swab

The form of the sample may not always be obvious, especially if the sample is mixed, cooked, tanned or processed in some way.

Natural processes of decay and degradation may also alter the sample beyond physical recognition. Though these processes contribute to the difficulty of DNA recovery; DNA, especially mitochondrial DNA, can typically be recovered from even the most degraded samples.

Amplification by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) of target short tandem repeats (STRs) in nuclear DNA and short highly conserved regions in the mitochondrial DNA can be analyzed and produce useful evidence.

Occasionally a sample will not yield any DNA but this is rare.

The Wildlife Forensics Unit has an arsenal of molecular tools to deal with almost any situation and continues to seek, develop and utilize new technology as it becomes available.