Development of Wildlife Forensic Laboratories in India

Organized wildlife criminals have devastated the forests in India and elsewhere. Shooting, snaring, poisoning, and electrocuting animals to feed an insatiable market of exotic medicine users, collectors, clothiers, fashion designers, leather craftsmen, pet fanciers, and fancy cuisine-lovers. Poachers have formed international syndicates, armed themselves with the deadliest weapons, and developed facilitators within the enforcement machinery. The result is too obvious which is, systematic destruction of this majestic species to the verge of extinction. Illegal wildlife trade has grim environmental consequences. It threatens the survival of many wildlife species. For investigating these crimes and punishing these culprits, forensic science plays a vital role by providing concrete legal pieces of evidence. Wildlife Forensic Laboratories have been established in India and are being promoted for not only carrying out forensic activities but also researching new and efficient methods to carry out forensic activities.

Introduction

Crimes happen every day. It may be a murder, or rape or kidnapping, or theft. For every crime done against a human, it is investigated by the police officers. The first step in every investigation is to lodge an FIR and then go for a detailed study of the crime scene. By studying the crime scene attempts are made to collect as many pieces of evidence as possible. These shreds of evidence collected are then sent to a forensic lab for getting concrete medical shreds of evidence and proofs for proceeding further in the case.

But such crimes not only happen to humans. Crimes against the wildlife are also at par. The crime scenes when related to crime against animals are though way different than a human crime scene. The evidence found and trails left are far scarcer and more minuscule. But like any other investigation, even with crimes related to wildlife, the evidence is sent to a wildlife forensic laboratory, where they are examined and tested. The role of a wildlife forensic laboratory is far more elaborated than a usual forensic laboratory.

In a country like India where biodiversity is huge, wildlife crimes happen on a large scale. To curb them, discourage them, and punish the culprits, such forensic labs are necessary to be set up. With the Wildlife Protection Act into force, numerous government bodies are also set up for achieving the same objective.

Wildlife Crimes

Wildlife crime can be defined as a contravention of any domestic, foreign, or international law concerning preservation, management, protection, and trade of wildlife. The types of organized crimes that take place in India are:

  • Shooting
  • Snaring[1]
  • Poisoning
  • Electrocuting

The animals and their body parts are used for a number of purposes in the ferocious markets. These purposes can be:

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

 In India, wildlife trade is expanding rapidly. The main consumer markets for these animals are China and South East Asia, but wildlife[2] is also smuggled to the Gulf, Europe, and Northern America. Beyond India, the other countries which are also a supplier of these animals are Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar.

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

Most people probably don’t even realize that this wealth of species even exists in India. But they are perishing fast, with a population of only about 25% of the Tibetan Antelope remaining. At least 5,772 pangolins were captured in India from 2009 to 2017 for illegal trade[3]. The Indian star tortoise is now the most trafficked tortoise worldwide as it is in high demand as a pet.

Illegal wildlife trade can have grim environmental consequences. It threatens the survival of wildlife species particularly those, which are famous for their visually appealing nature, and biological worth. Such trade poses one of the biggest threats to global biodiversity as it contributes directly to their extinction. It can also result in the introduction of diseases, injurious pests, and exotic species that corner out the native species, permanently damaging or altering natural ecosystems.

Wildlife Forensics

Forensics is an applied practice that is concerned with the use of scientific methods to generate pieces of evidence of legal proceedings. It is also known as criminalistics. Its components are:

  • Physical matching
  • Fingerprint matching
  • Hair and fiber analysis
  • Blood splatter analysis
  • DNA analysis
  • Chemical analysis
  • Forensic pathology

Wildlife forensics is a branch of forensics which used for trafficking the illegal wildlife trade, identifying the perpetrators, and the identification of wildlife products in trade. It deals with the gathering of evidence when crimes are conducted against the wildlife. It uses the same principles as human forensics with a few modifications. In human forensics only species is concerned, i. e. the homo sapiens, but in wildlife forensics, there is a need to identify and distinguish between a variety of species.

In fact, the work of wildlife forensics is even harder than the usual forensics. Never in wildlife forensics, the whole body of the animal is found. Only parts and pieces are received  and the character which defines that animal species are rarely present in those parts. Thus, with limited pieces of evidence, the forensics department has to identify the species of the animal.

Very few evidences and proofs are left after a wildlife crime and it is then left up to the investigators to find something useful to extract from them. A seemingly flawless crime conceals a number of clues invisible to the naked eye but has to be carefully patched together to solve the crime mystery. Modern crime detection is a scientific task now and it includes the examination, scrutinization, and identification of biological remains, traces of blood and skin, fingerprints, samples of tissues, hair to determine the nature of the crime, and the method of execution and most crucially, the perpetrator of the crime. A wildlife forensic expert is a person who applies scientific methodology and analytical skills for the purpose of getting concrete pieces of evidence for a legal proceeding.

Wildlife Forensic and Conservation Genetic Cell (WFCG)

The Wildlife Forensic and Conservation Genetics (WFCG) Cell had been formed after merging the Wildlife Forensic with Conservation Genetics Laboratories for proper enforcement of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 of India.

WFCG Cell is established after of a team of expert ‘scientist and technologists’ and ‘state of the art’ facility with high-end apparatus for undertaking research and analysis for producing the scientific reports in the fields of forensics and conservation. The main functions of the Cell is undertaking research for improvement of the wildlife forensics procedures, identifying the species from a diversity of wildlife parts and products, for the enforcement support, developing and maintaining a repository of wildlife orientation samples.

Besides these, the WFCG Cell plays a key role in alerting enforcement agencies about crime scene investigation and proper collection of evidence through regular training and workshops. It also provides advanced training for wildlife crime analysis to the scientific organizations of the neighboring countries like Nepal and Bangladesh for helping them to combat wildlife crime.

WFCG Cell also conducts lectures on species identification from the evidence found on the crime scene, followed by hands-on-training on the identification of various body parts and products encountered in illegal wildlife trade field trainings for the foremost execution agencies, like Indian Forest Service (IFS), Assistance Conservator of Forest (ACF), Indian Revenue Service (IRS) Custom Officers, Range Forest Officers and Custom Inspectors and Superintendents. It also conducts training and mock-drill exercise on “Crime scene management and evidence collection for various enforcement agencies.

It is also conducting research in the field of conservation and evolutionary genetics. Research projects are currently focused on the valuation of diversity and evolution of Himalayan songbirds and red jungle fowl; the progress of services and canids, phylogeography hog deer, population dynamics of tiger, wolves, and sambar, Sangai deer, preservation of Great Indian Bustard (GIB),  Gharial and Mugger, and tiger for the identification of the site of poaching, and protection of the aquatic animals including dugong, molecular tracking of Great one-horned Rhinoceros, Gangetic dolphin, fish and turtles through CAPMA (Centre of Analysis and Forecasts, Spain) and NMCG (National Mission of Clean Ganga).

Why are Wildlife Forensic Laboratories necessary?

  • Reveals facts

Forensic science governs any and all science that can be applied in a criminal case to examine shreds of evidence. It also creates linkages and reveals vital facts of the case.

  • Identification of the species

Investigators of wildlife crimes are usually handicapped when it comes to identifying the species of the animal. This is so because the evidence or the part of the animal found is so small or misshaped that it is not apt to identify the species. So wildlife forensics helps to identify the species through medical tests.

  • Trace human activity

Along with the remains of the animal, few human traces can also be identified near the crime scene. When decoded, these human traces can further contribute to finding the culprit/s.

  • Provide concrete legal evidence

When convicted, the findings of the Wildlife Forensics can serve as concrete evidence against the accused and help in giving a speedy trial.

  • Separate the fake and fur

Many products are available in the name of animal products in the market. In the name of animal fur, even fake skin is sold. To identify the real animal made products forensic science helps a lot.

  • Details about the crime

Wildlife forensics works on even minuscule biological traces like hair, saliva, or sweat and provide details like the species category and the DNA structure of the animal. With the contributing physical pieces of evidence, found on the crime scene it can be concluded that whether the animal was poisoned, butchered, trapped, or tortured.

Indian legal provisions against wildlife crime

Article 48A of the Indian Constitution

This article lays down the directive principles of State policy. It states that the state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.

Article 51A(g) of the Indian Constitution

Fundamental duties are listed under this article. It is stated that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife. Every citizen shall compassion for every living being.

Wildlife Protection Act, 1972

The given Act provides for the protection of the country’s wild animals, birds, and plant species, to ensure ecological and biological security. The Act lays down restrictions on hunting many animal species. The Act was last amended in the year 2006.

There are six schedules provided in the Wildlife Protection Act. These Schedules are:

Schedule I– This Schedule covers those endangered species that need rigorous protection. The harshest of penalties are levied on violation of any law that are under this Schedule. Hunting species that are mentioned under this section is prohibited, except under a threat to human life. Absolute protection is accorded to species under this schedule. Examples: tiger, blackbuck, Himalayan Brown Bear, Brow-Antlered Deer, Blue whale, Common Dolphin, Cheetah, Clouded Leopard, hornbills, Indian Gazelle, etc.

Schedule II– Animals under this list are also accorded high protection, their trade is prohibited and they cannot be hunted except under threat to human life. Examples: Kohinoor (insect), Assamese Macaque, Bengal Hanuman langur, Large Indian Civet, Indian Fox, Larger Kashmir Flying Squirrel, Kashmir Fox, etc.

Schedule III & IV– This list is for species that are not under endangered categories. Species mentioned here are under the protected category but the penalty for any violation under this schedule is less compared to the first two schedules. Examples: hyena, Himalayan rat, porcupine, flying fox, Malabar tree toad, etc.

Schedule V– This schedule contains animals that can be hunted. Examples: mice, rat, common crow, fruit bats, etc.

Schedule VI– This list contains plants that are forbidden from cultivation. Examples: pitcher plant, blue vanda, red vanda, kush, etc.

Wildlife Crime Control Board

For the implementation of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and in order to mitigate the number of wildlife crimes, the wildlife crime control bureau was established on 4th September 2006 by making amendments in the wildlife protection Act,1972. It became operative from the year 2008 and has its headquarters situated in Delhi. It has its offices across the country. The purpose of forming this statutory body was to protect wildlife species and flora of the country. It not only plays an effective role in curbing national wildlife crimes but also prevents trans-boundary wildlife crimes. It is a body which proposes various policies and relevant laws to alleviate the number of crimes. The body possess the independent power to investigate crimes and take action against the wrongdoer.

The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau works towards conquering excellence as an intelligence and enforcement agency, to match international standards in the arena of wildlife crime intelligence as its core capabilities, functioning as one team integrated into the intelligence community. It aims to conserve wildlife wealth by proper and effective involvement in matters related to capacity building of enforcement agencies in the field of wildlife crime enforcement and by providing professional assistance to discourage the organized wildlife crime nexus. Thereby all the crimes committed against the wildlife are investigated, monitored, and punished by the WCCB. In order to reduce the number of wildlife crimes and punish the crime doers, the WCCB works with the WFCG(Wildlife Forensic and Conservation Genetic Cell).

Current conditions of Wildlife Forensic Laboratories in India

There has been a delay in the processing of lab samples because of the lockdown in place in India. There have been delays in providing reports to the concerned authorities which further results in delay in the investigation to be concluded. Scientists Samrat Mondol, who works in Wildlife Institute of India said that post lockdown there might be an increase in the illegal wildlife trade, of both live animals and their body parts. This is so because the demands for traditional medicine are going to be skyrocketing. Also, due to the worldwide pandemic and a nation-wide lockdown, there has been a scarcity in finding funds and releasing them for research purposes in the field of wildlife forensics. In the longer run, post-lock down it will be harder for the research centers to find funds for the centers.  

Case Laws

G. R. Simon v. Union of India[4]

A person who was engaged in the leather business that too of the leather made out of snakeskin, had approached the Delhi High Court stating that the Wildlife Protection Act is violative of Article 19(1)(g)[5] of that person. The court had quashed the petition on the grounds that wildlife trade causes harm to animals and hampers the ecological balance of the society. Thus, the Wildlife Protection Act is not unconstitutional.

Balram Kumawat v. Union of India[6]

The petitioner was engaged in the trade of mammoth ivory in India. In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court contended that according to the Wildlife Protection Act, the trade in ivory is also prohibited even though it is not expressly mentioned in the act. Therefore, the petition cannot be engaged in the practice.  

Conclusion

Crimes against humans have been investigated and solved with the help of forensic science. This even applies when it comes to investigating wildlife crimes. The wildlife forensic laboratories have played an intrinsic role in solving large-scale organized wildlife crimes and in providing concrete legal pieces of evidence. In a country like India where the diversity of flora and fauna is so vast, wildlife crimes take place regularly, and monitoring them is crucial for the maintenance of ecological balance. With the initiative taken by  WFCG and WCCB, and the Wildlife Protection Act in place, the laws are quite strict and at par with the international laws. But the only place where India lacks is the proper execution of these laws. If each and every citizen of India fulfills his duty as mentioned in article 51A(g) of the Indian Constitution then the growth rates of wildlife crimes would get curbed and the land of India would be a land of harmony amongst human and nature.  

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

  1. What is forensics?

Ans 1. Forensics is an applied practice that is concerned with the use of scientific methods to generate pieces of evidence of legal proceedings.

2. What are wildlife forensics?

Ans 2. Wildlife forensics is a branch of forensics which used for trafficking the illegal wildlife trade, identifying the perpetrators, and the identification of wildlife products in trade. It deals with the gathering of pieces of evidence when crimes are conducted against the wildlife.

33. What is the purpose of the Wildlife Protection Act?

Ans 3. The given Act provides for the protection of the country’s wild animals, birds, and plant species, to ensure ecological and biological security. The Act lays down restrictions on hunting many animal species.

4. What is article 48A of the Indian Constitution?

Ans 4. This article lays down the directive principles of State policy. It states that the state shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.  

5. What is article 51A(g) of the Indian Constitution?

Ans 5. Fundamental duties are listed under this article. It is stated that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife. Every citizen shall compassion for every living being.  

References

http://cpreec.org/32.htm https://www.traffic.org/what-we-do/projects-and-approaches/wildlife-conservation-technology/wildlife-forensics/

https://cites.org/sites/default/files/eng/cop/17/WorkingDocs/E-CoP17-25-A4.pdf

https://wii.gov.in/wildlife_forensic#:~:text=The%20Wildlife%20Forensic%20and%20Conservation,)%20Act%2C%201972%20of%20India.

https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/spotlight-indias-soaring-wildlife-crime http://wccb.gov.in/Content/Creationofwccb.aspx

https://blog.ipleaders.in/an-ultimate-guide-to-wildlife-crime-control-bureau/


[1] Trapping by the use of net

[2] Alive or as body parts

[3] In 2018, a study released by TRAFFIC India

[4] AIR 1997 Delhi 301

[5] As mentioned in the Indian Constitution

[6] AIR 2003 SC 3268

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