Forensic Biology
Pugmark Examination in Wildlife Crimes

Pugmark Examination in Wildlife Crimes

Pugmarks are studied under the category of track-mark evidence. They are the footprints or paw prints of all the animals and confirm their presence in a particular area. They are analogous to fingerprints and footprints of human beings and unique in nature for every individual animal. Therefore, they act as important evidence for profiling of animals.

Pugmark examination can give a lot of information that helps in identifying an individual animal. A single pugmark can give the information about the gender, age, size, health conditions, time and direction in which the animal has moved. The scientific examination of pugmarks can link the suspect and crime scene with the victim animals.

Pugmark examination is one of the important tasks for the wildlife crime analysts. They collect different sorts of data through pugmarks present in a particular area and estimate the population of different animals in that area. This helps them to adopt important steps on the way to conserve wildlife.

In wildlife forensics pugmark study is conducted to investigate the wildlife crimes and to track the rogue animals which are considered dangerous to mankind. The animals are also tracked in order to save them from any kind of threat and endangerment from human beings.

Pugmark Formation

The process of pugmarks are formed when they are compressed against the surface on which an animal is walking. 

When an animal walks on wet soil, snow, sand, mud or any other similar surface, the pugmarks formed are three dimensional in nature and are called sunken pugmark impressions. They are the most encountered types of pugmarks.

If the animal walks on any hard surface or smooth surface, the pug marks formed on those surfaces are due to presence of dust, dirt or blood on the paws and they produce two-dimensional impressions. These marks are called surface pugmarks.

Pugmarks can also be lifted by dust or any liquid which may leave negative pug impressions on the surface.

Most Encountered Pugmarks For Examination

Every animal leaves their pugmarks but the most encountered pugmarks are from the large carnivores which can be broadly categorised into canidae and felidae families.

Canidae Family

Canidae family is also called the ‘Dog Family’. They usually move and hunt in packs and often walk miles. The characteristics of their pugmarks are:

  • The claw marks are visible in front of the toe pads.
  • The toes are larger than the heel pads and help them to run down the prey.
  • The gap between the top of the heel pads and the toes is large.
  • The front points of the two middle toes occur side by side (hyena is an exception).

Felidae Family

This family is also known as ‘Cat Family’. They lead a solitary existence that depends on stealth for hunting down the prey. They are excellent runners and climbers. The characteristics of their pugmarks are:

  • The claws are hardly visible in front of the toes.
  • The soft heel pads are comparatively larger.
  • The gap is small between the heel pads and toes.
  • The middle toes are present at different levels, especially in the hind paws.
Cat Pugmark vs Dog Pugmark

Certain characteristic features of pugmarks of different animals:

  • Elephants- The size of the pugmark is very big which makes it obvious of the elephant’s footprints.
  • Sloth Bear– The pugmarks are flat due to their flat soled feet.
  • Fox- Their pugmarks are very close to median  line, creating the impression of rope walking

Information Revealed Through Pugmark Examination

Pugmarks alone can state the whole profile of animals that includes the species, age, gender, movement, population, etc.

Species Determination

It is based on the principle that ‘every individual has its unique pugmark’. The abnormalities and deformities in a particular paw makes the mark distinct and narrow down the search. But it is quite a difficult task for human beings as the number of animals present on earth is huge and the pugmarks left by them are not always clear. Digital Pugmark Technology (DPT) is a new generation animal identification technology based on the pugmark impressions that uses a statistical approach.

Age Determination

The pugmarks of adult animals are larger than the baby animals. For example in tigers- the pugmarks of adult tigress are compact whereas the cub’s pugmarks are quite spread. The length of toes in adult tigress is smaller as compared to their cubs.

Pugmark Age Determination

The age of the pugmark can be determined by observing the conditions of the dust and soil. The fresh pugmarks on soil, dust or any other such surface shows intact perpendicular walls and the base of the prints are flat and smooth. With moving time and natural phenomena such as sunlight, rainfall, storms, etc. the conditions of pugmark also changes.

Sex Determination

The pugmarks are distinct for the males and females of the same species. The male pugmarks are usually smaller as compared to that of females. The female pugmarks fit into a rectangle whereas the male pugmarks nearly fit into a square. The female pugmarks are elongated but the male pugmarks are slightly round.

Animal Movement

Depending upon the body mechanics and behaviour the distinct movement of different animals can be determined. Some animals walk, run, hop, lope, etc. and each move makes a gait pattern which is distinct for each animal species.

The gait pattern determination gives a key for elucidating the behaviour of the animal and their future activities.

Population Determination 

Animal footprint study is one of the fundamental techniques to determine the population of an animal species in a particular area. This method is the safest to spot the presence of an animal population. It also states the population density of animals in the area. It is one of the crucial methods in declaring that a particular species is endangered or not.

Limitations Of Pugmark Examination

Nothing is spared by the law of nature i.e., progressive change. The natural phenomena of heat, rainfall, storms, etc changes the nature of the pugmarks which can imitate false identification. The presence of negative pumarks also limits the proper forensic analysis. Undetectable pugmarks and erosions by other animals also challenge the identification. Therefore, keen and thorough analysis is required to get accurate results.


Pugmarks are important evidence in wildlife crime investigation. They alone explicate a lot of information regarding the animal that includes- the species, age, sex, movement, behaviour, population, direction and time of movement, etc. But the identification process is a challenging one because there are a number of animal species present on earth with unique behaviours .

This makes the identification course a difficult task for human beings. Technologies like DPT have made it quite easier to study these pug marks but more developed and advanced similar techniques are required for acquiring the desired results. Appropriate and careful examination is mandatory for the accurate analysis in wildlife forensics.

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