Imaging Techniques – Methods in Laboratories Investigating in Suspected Wildlife Crime Cases

This article helps understand the concept as to what wildlife crime is. This Article helps us understand the difference in the approach of investigations with regard to a human crime investigation and a wildlife crime investigation. This article deals with what the different types of wildlife crimes are as well. This article also discusses the different technics used for the investigations of wildlife crimes

Introduction

The wildlife crime investigation practise is still something that is constantly developing. Information on the concept of investigation of wildlife crimes are pretty scarce. Hence, there has been various requirements from the State wildlife crime enforcement agencies for the development of the capacities of their investigation officers in the professional and scientific investigation in cases of wildlife offences.

Wildlife crime is a key area of the law enforcement and it involves offences such as the illegal trading animals, plants, and their derivatives along with causing some of the observable effects with the intense decline in various species of flora and fauna.

As far the wildlife crime cases are concerned the forensic methods that are relevant for the enforcement of wildlife legislation includes:

  • Veterinary pathology, where persons skilled in this, determine cause as well as the time of death; (ii) Crime scene examination, to record and collect such as latent fingerprints and DNA, both of the animal and human.
  • The two principal issues that are addressed and these transmit to the phrasing of the various types of legislations in Wildlife crime.

The first one is regarding the ability be able to identify a particular species and second one is regarding the ability to determine whether the biological material can be assigned with sureness to a specific individual member of that species. [1]

As mentioned before Wildlife crimes may exists in various forms such as:

• Illegal keeping/trading of wildlife

• Killing of wildlife either under unlawful conditions or by inappropriate means or methods

• Damaging the health of wildlife

It may be observed that the illegal killing of wildlife along with the trafficking of the products so made is major business. According to the World Economic forum the illegal killing, and the trafficking of the product so made is a billion-dollar global crime.

 Most of the time, however the persecution and prosecution of such alleged offenders is rarely successful and very often come to nothing. This is mostly due to the existence of various drawbacks. Such as different legislations, the lack of knowledge of the legal authorities regarding certain key biological aspects, improper CSI, improper handling or storage or transport of the samples, lack of or inaccurate necropsy, vague testimonies or even when then investigators and laboratories not being familiar with the wildlife crime incidents or the methods that is used for killing, or not being familiar with the respective legal and methodical requirements.[2]

Most of the above-mentioned downfalls can be dealt by using a uniform methods and procedures along with a better understanding of the problems that are likely to be associated with forensic investigations in suspected wildlife crime. These investigations are rather challenging as the whole process of gathering the evidence by means of the crime scene investigations are both exhaustive as well as is a conclusive ancillary examination. One of the major objectives is to be able to distinguish between the illegal killing and an accidental death or death of natural.

 

Wildlife Forensics

The term wildlife usually can be referred to undomesticated animal species, but now also includes all plants, fungi and other organisms that grow or live wild in an area without the intervention of human beings. Forensic science on the other hand is the use or application of scientific methods or expertise for criminal investigations or in order to examine evidence that may be submitted in a court of law[3]. Wildlife crime may be understood as taking, possession, trade or movement, processing, consumption of wild animals and plants or their by-products with the infringement of any international, regional, or national legislation Forensic science encompasses a diverse range of disciplines that includes things like fingerprint, DNA analysis, and anthropology and wildlife forensics. Forensic has existed and proved itself for human crime investigations for decades now, however the application of Forensic science in suspected wildlife crimes is a rather new feat.

Wildlife Offences

Wildlife crime as mentioned before, it may be understood to include taking, possession, trade or movement, processing, consumption of wild animals and plants or their by-products with the intervention of any international, regional, or national legislation. The infliction of cruelty to along with the harassment of wild animals, both free-living as well as captive can also at times be included to this definition. Even though wild animals and plants are the sufferers of any wildlife crime in the first place, it has got a dropping effect on the ecosystem of particular country or region. It can be clearly understood from the constitutional mandate that the wildlife is our national wealth. Since the act of illegal wildlife trading is a major business involving billions of dollars, it is hence also to be treated as a serious economic offence.

Amongst other offences that exists, hunting and illegal trade are the two major wildlife offences. All other crimes such like preparation, possession, transportation, processing etc. regarding the same are all offences. Now on the basis of this the wildlife offenders may be categorised into two groups:

The first are the poachers or hunters who kill or capture wild animals or collect wild plants and the second are persons that buy such hunted and/or captured animals or its body parts or it’s by- products or collected plants or its parts or by-products, for own consumption or for trade. The traders of the wildlife materials consist of the most powerful group of wildlife delinquents and they operate in a rather highly organised nature. The links of such organised Wildlife criminals have global existence, and they make major commercial gains from such crimes.

Poaching is another wildlife crime and is often associated with various levels of violence. For example, poaching for ivory, rhino horns etc. are usually based on heavy use of arms which unfortunately involves a lot of bloodshed and sometime even human bloodshed. But if one were to consider the process of poaching of other species like Snakes, Orchids, Turtles etc. are more reliant on technical skills to identify high-value species. The poachers in India are however often compelled by the poor socio-economic conditions.[4]

Illegal logging and illegal harvesting, these offences includes criminal activities such as the felling of trees and taking of plants This also could involve things like logging or taking of endangered species or logging in protected areas, excessive logging, logging without any permits or licences, the use of fake permits, procurement of logging permits illegally, non-payment of taxes and other forest fees, and damaging forest or plant ecosystems.

 Import and export, this specifically relates import and exports of wild flora and fauna to those crimes taking place across international borders.[5]

How Do Wildlife Offences Differ From Other Offences Such As Theft, Murder, Drugs?

Wildlife crimes are often interrelated to various other offences such as murder, theft, drugs etc. They do, however, differ in following facets:

 (i) Wildlife crimes are location specific. In order to commit a wildlife crime, the offender has to go to that particular place where the targeted wildlife is available.

 (ii) Most of the Acts which are now interpreted as a wildlife crime were not considered criminal acts up until the enactment of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.  For example, hunting, which is one of the topmost wildlife crimes at one point was considered as an act of valour and a royal pass time.

(iii) The community in general is not affected by the wildlife crimes. In cases of crimes such as murder, theft or robbery, or any other occurrence that causes a sense of fear into the minds of people that even they could possibly be a victim of such criminal offences. They take actions or preventive measures for the same. There would be a general awareness and active measures taken in order to prevent such crimes. However, the wildlife crime victims unfortunately do not have the same privilege.[6]

Forensic Approach To The Wildlife Crimes

An inconsistency to the limited trials is the reason there rise in interest in the forensic area with regard to wildlife forensic science. Any forensic scientist in the course of the investigation of the crime with regard to the wildlife should know all the general techniques i.e.  Fingerprint analysis, fibre analysis, footwear, and tyre marks, questioned documents and handwriting analysis, digital forensics, human DNA analysis, firearms analysis, soil, and chemical analysis etc.  Those that has been used in order to investigate any other types of crime may also be used for the investigations of a wildlife crime.

Some of the forensic technics that are available so far are:

  • Taxonomy- This mostly deals with the study of the structure of animals and plants and is useful for recognition of species.
  • Stable Isotope Analysis – Chiefly it is grounded on the concept of measuring natural variation in the chemical elements that are present in biological samples in order to establish the geographical source or the age of such a sample.
  • Radiocarbon Dating Generally- This is generally used for aging samples on the basis of the levels of carbon isotopes following the start of an atmospheric nuclear bomb tests. This technique may be applied in order to discriminate the specimens that were alive before and after the 1947 convention cut off.
  • Wildlife DNA Forensics – DNA is the genetic material that is present in all fauna and flora. It can be found in all biological samples such as  timber products, hair, fur, feathers, bones, blood, ivory, horn, saliva, faeces, nails, claws, teeth etc. and hence, it can be then be used for various applications which includes molecular species identification, parentage testing and individual identification etc.
  • Toxicology analysis (including pesticides)-  When there is a suspected case or a question of poisoning arises with regard to  any  wildlife  crime, the chemical analysis of the victim along with any bait material can found for the existence or non-existence of pesticide, in case any has been used.[7]

Crime Scene Investigations In Suspected Wildlife Cases

A proper and thorough crime scene investigations is of a fundamental prominence in any case of suspected illegal killing of wildlife. In the event of that not properly happening, it may result in evidence getting lost or overlooked and would likely not only hamper the investigation, but it will also negatively affect the outcome of the court.

Generally, the crime scene investigations in cases of a suspected wildlife case, some basic principles and rules must be followed, similar to that of the ones conducted in other crimes with regard to securing, preserving, searching, and documenting the place of crime. The various methods applied in solving a human crime can also be utilized. There are however certain issues that causes certain hindrances as there are some obvious differences from a wildlife crime and other cases.

Distinct Characteristics Of A Wildlife Crime Investigation

  • Responding to a suspected wildlife crime scene – the crime scene has to be secured by the first responder in an operational manner in order to prevent any destruction, contamination or otherwise disturbance of the first scene.
  • Documenting a suspected wildlife scene – The instant after getting notified of a possible wildlife crime, documentation of the circumstances and the following crime scene is paramount.
  • Photography or videography – This is of great significance for following investigators (e.g. veterinary pathologists) dealing with that particular crime, especially if they were not present at the primary Crime Scene Investigation.
  • Searching a wildlife crime scene- A thorough and systematic search must be done at the place of the crime in order to recover and collect any possible thing that may be of use for the investigations.
  • Collection of evidence at the suspected wildlife crime site- This includes labelling, packing Transporting and storage
  • Keep to the chain of Custody- This refers to the constant documentation of the custody, transport, transfer, analysis, and final deposition of any article of evidence. Not adhering to this process might lead to evidence not being submissible in court.
  • People to be interviewed in a wildlife crime scene – This includes Local hunters and local wildlife authorities, landowner of crime site, residents close to crime site, locals regularly using area[8]

Laboratory Investigations In Suspected Wildlife Case

Veterinary Pathological Investigation

Veterinary pathology investigations are a major part in all conditions that involve the dead wildlife. The pathologist may determine the reason of death as well as the manner in which it happened as well as the reason it happened. They may also describe any cause of medical condition as well as the underlying pathology. Further, forensic pathologists are experts who are able to evaluate the necessity of subsequent investigations as a result of the pathological findings. Hence a proper and thorough pathologic investigation at a chosen laboratory is of utmost significance in suspected illegal killings. This includes external examination, internal examinations, or organs etc., sampling for additional investigations and histological examinations.

Imaging Technics

The prominence of the use of imaging techniques in suspected wildlife crimes cannot be overstated. Non-invasive imaging techniques are tremendously useful examination tools in wildlife forensic cases in order to document various traumata, metal foreign objects, fractures, etc. as such. Several non-invasive imaging techniques are available that may harvest significant evidence during the investigation process in suspected wildlife crime cases.

 Due to its rather easy feasibility and high information value, radiography is still the “gold standard” in imaging techniques. Though radiography is the most frequently used method, other techniques are also used such as a computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance (MR) and, to a lesser extent, ultrasonography. All these techniques and systems entail suitably qualified persons, both to operate as well as to infer the images. Hence, an expert report is essential to understand the forensic significance of the findings for each of the imaging study, regardless of the method employed

  • . Radiography- This is widely used, and important technic used for forensic examinations. Abnormalities and evidences etc. can be documented using this method. The most significant of them being
  • Foreign Object
  • Traumata, especially skeletal injuries
  • Measurement of bone density, age determination
  • Computed Tomography (CT)- CT allows a three-dimensional, cross section-images of the body through the computer processed multi-angle X-ray measurements. This technique is not often used in wildlife forensic cases, mostly due to the costs of each individual scan and the availability of the system.
  • Magnetic Resonance (MR)

While creating very high contrast images using magnetic fields and non-ionizing radio waves, the costs and duration of a MR-study and the limited availability of the system deter its application in most wildlife forensic cases.

  • Ultrasonography

Ultrasonography uses the high frequency of sound waves and their reflection of body-tissues to attain images mostly of soft tissues like internal organs, blood vessels, tendons etc. This technique is radiation-free mode, and most systems are easily portable. It is usage in dead animals are limited as post-mortem causes changes like gas accumulation in various cavities and tissues.[9]

Toxicological Investigations

A number of pesticides may be involved in the illegal poisoning of wildlife. This may be the cautious abuse of a product or misuse of the product, through carelessness or failure to comply with a safe code of practice.[10] This analysis’s objective is to detect the potentiality toxic substances if poisoning is suspected in a wildlife crime. They must be performed in a properly equipped toxicological laboratory. Different methods are available including high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). [11]

Bacteriological, Virological & Fungal Investigations

Many numbers of diseases in wildlife are caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi. While bacteria are “living” single-celled organisms that exhibit their own metabolism, viruses depend on living host cells of other organisms for reproduction. They comprise no cellular structure and consist solely of a protein capsule that surrounds the genetic material.[12]

Parasitological Investigations

Parasites are a species of organisms that live in or on an organism. As far as wildlife is concerned parasites are everywhere. Due to the high occurrence of parasites in wildlife, all investigations into the cause of death of a wild animal should routinely include parasitological examinations as well.

Botanical Investigations

The analysis of plants and plant parts has in the recent years proved itself rather useful even in cases of human crimes. In suspected wildlife crime cases, botanical investigations may be of similar help as they help in answering other questions, regarding diet and other indigestion of food. Analysing plants by their morphological features requires a well-trained botanist. When inspecting gastric or intestinal contents of an animal, the analyst shall have to deal with plant parts that are at least partly digested.

Entomological Investigations

This is the analysis regarding the insects with regard to suspected wildlife crime case. This is a procedure that is quite established in human forensic science and is developing in veterinary forensic science.

 The above mentioned are merely a few of the types of investigations. It may be pertinent to know that even in these investigations there are different methods, samples etc. involved.

Conclusion

From the article one can observe that wildlife crime is a field which is still evolving. It requires teamwork, systematic planning, and a proper understanding in various regards. There are various challenges on the part of the law enforcement with regard to wildlife crimes. Challenges include: poor governance, inadequate legislation; lack of equipment; limited training opportunities; difficulty accessing modern enforcement tools such as analytical and forensic science support; a lack of intelligence-gathering capacity and risk management practices; and a lack of awareness among prosecutors and the judiciary of the seriousness of wildlife crime[13]. However, it is still a developing field and there is a lot of improvement from what it used to be.

FAQs

What Are Wildlife Crimes?

The wildlife crime investigation practise is still something that is constantly developing. It may be understood to include taking, possession, trade or movement, processing, consumption of wild animals and plants or their by-products with the intervention of any international, regional, or national legislation. The infliction of cruelty to along with the harassment of wild animals, both free-living as well as captive can also at times be included to this definition

What Is The Relevance Of Forensic Science In Wildlife Crime Cases?

As far the wildlife crime cases are concerned the forensic methods that are relevant for the enforcement of wildlife legislation includes:

  • Veterinary pathology, where persons skilled in this, determine cause as well as the time of death; (ii) Crime scene examination, to record and collect such as latent fingerprints and DNA, both of the animal and human.
  • The two principal issues that are addressed and these transmit to the phrasing of the various types of legislations in Wildlife crime.

The first one is regarding the ability be able to identify a particular species and second one is regarding the ability to determine whether the biological material can be assigned with sureness to a specific individual member of that species.

What Are Some Of The Forensic Technics Available So Far?

  • Taxonomy
  • Stable Isotope Analysis.
  • Radiocarbon Dating Generally
  • Wildlife DNA Forensics
  • Toxicology analysis (including pesticides)

What Is Ultrasonography?

Ultrasonography uses the high frequency of sound waves and their reflection of body-tissues to attain images mostly of soft tissues like internal organs, blood vessels, tendons etc. This technique is radiation-free mode, and most systems are easily portable. It is usage in dead animals are limited as post-mortem causes changes like gas accumulation in various cavities and tissues

What Are Entomological Investigations?

This is the analysis regarding the insects with regard to suspected wildlife crime case. This is a procedure that is quite established in human forensic science and is developing in veterinary forensic science

Reference

Dr. Yadav, S., & Dr DIxit, A. K. (n.d.). Forensic approaches in the solution of wildlife crime. Https://Www.Researchgate.Net.Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/307160297_Forensic_approaches_in_the_solution_of_wildlife_crime .

B e i g l b ö c k, C., & W a l z e r, C. (2019, December). STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES FOR FORENSIC INVESTIGATIONS OF SUSPECTED ILLEGAL KILLING OF WILDLIFE. Https://Www.Researchgate.Net/ . https://www.researchgate.net/publication/343084080_Handbook_Standard_Operating_Procedures_for_forensic_investigations_of_suspected_illegal_killings_of_Wildlife .

Forensic Science. (2020, October 1). NIST. https://www.nist.gov/topics/forensic-science

Natarajan, J. (n.d.). WILDLIFE CRIME INVESTIGATION A Handbook for Wildlife Crime Investigation Officers. Http://Wccb.Gov.In .  Retrieved October 24, 2020, from http://wccb.gov.in/WriteReadData/userfiles/file/Wildlife%20Crime%20Investigation%20Manual.pdf  

 K. (n.d.). Wildlife, Forest & Fisheries Crime Module 3 Key Issues: Criminalization of Wildlife Trafficking. Https://Www.Unodc.Org /. Retrieved October 24, 2020, from https://www.unodc.org/e4j/en/wildlife-crime/module-3/key-issues/criminalization-of-wildlife-trafficking.html

Wildlife crime | CITES. (n.d.). Https://Cites.Org. Retrieved October 24, 2020, from https://cites.org/eng/prog/iccwc/crime.php.


[1] Dr. Yadav, S., & Dr DIxit, A. K. (n.d.). Forensic approaches in the solution of wildlife crime. Https://Www.Researchgate.Net.

 Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/307160297_Forensic_approaches_in_the_solution_of_wildlife_crime .

[2] B e i g l b ö c k, C., & W a l z e r, C. (2019, December). STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES FOR FORENSIC INVESTIGATIONS OF SUSPECTED ILLEGAL KILLING OF WILDLIFE. Https://Www.Researchgate.Net/ . https://www.researchgate.net/publication/343084080_Handbook_Standard_Operating_Procedures_for_forensic_investigations_of_suspected_illegal_killings_of_Wildlife .

[3] Forensic Science. (2020, October 1). NIST. https://www.nist.gov/topics/forensic-science

[4] Natarajan, J. (n.d.). WILDLIFE CRIME INVESTIGATION A Handbook for Wildlife Crime Investigation Officers. Http://Wccb.Gov.In.  Retrieved October 24, 2020, from http://wccb.gov.in/WriteReadData/userfiles/file/Wildlife%20Crime%20Investigation%20Manual.pdf .

[5] K. (n.d.). Wildlife, Forest & Fisheries Crime Module 3 Key Issues: Criminalization of Wildlife Trafficking. Https://Www.Unodc.Org /. Retrieved October 24, 2020, from https://www.unodc.org/e4j/en/wildlife-crime/module-3/key-issues/criminalization-of-wildlife-trafficking.html .

[6] Ibid

[7] Dr. Yadav, S., & Dr DIxit, A. K. (n.d.). Forensic approaches in the solution of wildlife crime. Https://Www.Researchgate.Net.

 Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/307160297_Forensic_approaches_in_the_solution_of_wildlife_crime .

[8] [8] B e i g l b ö c k, C., & W a l z e r, C. (2019, December). STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES FOR FORENSIC INVESTIGATIONS OF SUSPECTED ILLEGAL KILLING OF WILDLIFE. Https://Www.Researchgate.Net/ . https://www.researchgate.net/publication/343084080_Handbook_Standard_Operating_Procedures_for_forensic_investigations_of_suspected_illegal_killings_of_Wildlife

[9] Ibid

[10] Dr. Yadav, S., & Dr DIxit, A. K. (n.d.). Forensic approaches in the solution of wildlife crime. Https://Www.Researchgate.Net.

 Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/307160297_Forensic_approaches_in_the_solution_of_wildlife_crime

[11] B e i g l b ö c k, C., & W a l z e r, C. (2019, December). STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES FOR FORENSIC INVESTIGATIONS OF SUSPECTED ILLEGAL KILLING OF WILDLIFE. Https://Www.Researchgate.Net/ . https://www.researchgate.net/publication/343084080_Handbook_Standard_Operating_Procedures_for_forensic_investigations_of_suspected_illegal_killings_of_Wildlife

[12] Ibid

[13] Wildlife crime | CITES. (n.d.). Https://Cites.Org. Retrieved October 24, 2020, from https://cites.org/eng/prog/iccwc/crime.php

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