The planet earth is filled with a lot of beauty because it has life on it and one of the most important forms of life is wildlife (fauna and flora). But due to the increasing greed of humans many wildlife species are on the verge of extinction because of the rapid hunting and poaching of the animals and deforestation, thus constituting wildlife crimes.
Wildlife crime refers to the illegal trading (supplying, selling or trafficking), importing, exporting, processing, obtaining and consumption of wild fauna and flora, including timber and other forest products across national and international borders.
International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) defines wildlife crimes as the acts committed contrary to national laws and regulations intended to protect natural resources and to administer their management and use. This includes the illicit exploitation of natural resources, such as poaching of animals and unauthorized logging of trees. It may also include subsequent acts such as the processing of fauna and flora into products, their transportation, sale and possession.
At the international level, wildlife crime involves violations of inter-governmental treaties such as the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory species of Wild Animals(CMS) as well as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora(CITES), which regulates exports and imports of wildlife.
Wildlife crime is the fourth most lucrative form of organized crime on the planet, following drug smuggling, human trafficking and illegal arms trade. It poses a serious threat to the survival of migratory animals such as birds, elephants, antelopes, cetaceans, big cats, fishes and marine turtles.
In India, the major wildlife crime includes poaching of tigers (for skin and bones), rhinos (for horns) and star tortoises (as a symbol of prosperity).
Since wildlife crime has become a huge problem worldwide that is threatening the survival of many plants and animals species, therefore introduction of wildlife forensics is very important.
“Wildlife Forensics is the scientific discipline wherein the science is used in the criminal investigation for identification and examination of evidence from the crime scenes where animals have been killed, particularly those that are protected by the law”.
Forensics plays a crucial role in curtailing the wildlife trade and human-wildlife conflicts. The goal of wildlife forensics is to use scientific procedures to examine, identify and compare evidence from crime scenes and link it with the suspect and victim (animal).
Poaching i.e., killing wild animals that are protected from hunting, is one of the most serious crimes investigated by wildlife forensic scientists.
Wildlife forensics involves a number of analysis techniques in order to investigate wildlife crimes. The analysis is based on the principles of morphological examination, forensic toxicology, forensic serology, forensic DNA analysis, impression examination, forensic fingerprint examination, forensic document examination, cyber forensics, firearm examination, forensic veterinary pathology, etc.
- Morphology Examination– This includes the analysis of the unique schreger patterns (crossing lines patterns) on the genuine elephant ivory, characteristic contouring pattern of tiger stripes, characteristic shape of a leopard’s canine, characteristic fragrance of sandalwood, etc.
- Forensic Toxicology– One of the methods to harm or kill animals is to poison them, which is subjected to forensic toxicology. The forensic scientists are able to identify the poison administered, which enables them to retrieve further evidence related to suspects.
- Forensic Serology– Suspected wild animal’s meats from the butcher shops and restaurants are liable to forensic serological examination.
- Forensic DNA Analysis– DNA typing helps the scientists to identify the origin of the animal or plant product and link the biological evidence such as the hair saliva, blood, sweat found on the crime scene left by the suspect. Hair analysis (forensic trichology) can give crucial information about the origin of species.
- Impression Examination– Wildlife crime scenes are usually muddy, soiled areas where the footwear impressions, tyre marks and pug marks can be easily left. Therefore these impressions are reliable for forensic impression analysis to narrow down the suspicion.
- Forensic Fingerprint Examination– Fingerprints can be easily extracted from the weapons, vehicles used for the commission of crime. The animal artefacts like the bones, ivory, egg shells, feathers may contain fingerprints of suspects, which now can be extracted and analysed.
- Forensic Document Examination– Criminals use falsified import and export documents to facilitate illegal international trade of animals and plants, which is heading to the forensic document examinations.
- Cyber Forensics– With the advanced technologies and digital world, illegal trade of wildlife species have changed and growing rapidly due to social media, online sale, etc. making it difficult to be exposed and caught. So cyber forensics is needed to combat this challenge.
- Forensic Firearm Examination– Usually the weapons used in hunting and poaching are firearms, so firearm and ammunition examination can help to identify the owner of the firearm.
- Forensic Veterinary Pathology– Forensic veterinary pathologist performs the postmortem of the animal carcass and determines whether the death of the animal was natural or due to human influence. In fact they are also liable to give legal testimony in courts.
The scope of wildlife forensics is quite wide, but there are challenges too which question the analysis. Because the evidence found on the crime scene is more prone to contamination and destruction due to natural circumstances.
Wildlife crimes are mushrooming worldwide threatening the survival of various fauna and flora species which is disturbing the balance of the ecosystem. Wildlife forensics can aid in the legal investigation of the wildlife crime scenes.
But there are a lot of challenges in this field which need to be sorted. More research and invention of identification techniques can help to overcome these challenges.