Wildlife Forensics: Current Techniques and Limitations

Wildlife forensics is a new field of a criminal investigation. Wildlife forensics use scientific procedures to examine, compare evidence from crime scenes, identify, link the evidence/, especially in an animal. The most serious crime investigation by wildlife forensic scientists is poaching. Poaching is the killing of wild animals that are protected from hunting by-laws. The wildlife includes undomesticated and diverse sorts of floral and faunal species, which is important for ecological balance and human survival. The poaching and illegal trade have resulted in a sharp decline in the many wild species of flora and fauna around the world. The need of the time, therefore, is to utterly specialize in wildlife protection for the sustainable development of the biosphere and future viability of human beings during this review we have focused on different techniques being utilized in wildlife forensic science for the identification of wildlife species. These techniques are often employed to regulate the wildlife crimes the criminals involved in the illegal trade of wildlife flora, fauna, and their products. These techniques include morphological, anatomical, footprints analysis/, etc. the article mainly deals with techniques and limitations of wildlife forensics. [1]

Introduction

The wildlife deals with undomesticated animal species include all plants, fungi, and other organisms that grow without being introduced by humans or live wild in any area. As per the wildlife protection act, 1972 “wildlife” includes any aquatics, animals which form part of any habitat.  Forensics is the collection, preserving, analyzing, and reporting of evidence for the application of science in the criminal investigation. Wildlife crimes can occur in many forms that can be in the form of illegal keeping of wildlife, damaging the health of wildlife, killing of wildlife by inappropriate means, or under unlawful conditions. According to the world economic forum, the fourth most global crime is illegal wildlife trafficking after drugs, arms, and humans. And even the illegal killing of the wildlife and trafficking of the products is a big business with an estimated value of $23 billion as per the world economic forum. [2] the wildlife forensic is the part of forensic biology which is concerned with the use of technology such as molecular biology as DNA profiling to fight against wildlife crime. [3]

Organizations/ persons involved in suspected wildlife crime cases are

Prosecutors – the prosecutors will gather or review all the information; the prosecutors will decide to press a charge or drop the case. In the pre-trial criminal investigations, the prosecutors will lead and decide.

Law enforcement officers/ investigators – the law enforcement officers will be initiating the investigations at the crime site and filing the cases to be presented to the prosecutors.

Stakeholders – hunting agencies, state wildlife management agencies, national park authorities, and various NGOs are involved in suspected wildlife crimes with an interest in wildlife conservation to harm the wildlife.

Veterinary authorities – the veterinary authority is responsible for the surveillance and control of animal diseases, animal welfare, animal safety, food production safety. the veterinary authorities are governed by government services. The veterinary authority will show the interest in control to stop the hunting of the animals, illegal killing of wildlife, etc.

Laboratories scientist – scientist as biologists, toxicologists, veterinarians, etc. they are expert in the wildlife crime investigation. It is their objective to stay unbiased when they are reporting or doing an investigation or being a witness on a case.

Detecting dead wildlife – it becomes difficult and tricky in detecting dead wildlife. It depends on various circumstances as area, size of the animal, environmental conditions, time of year, etc. so it’s very often that the dead animals are detected.

Public/media -in most cases the public becomes emotional. Wildlife crimes often generate high media attention, due to which the investigators have to put extra effort in doing the investigation of the wildlife crime.

Punishment for wildlife crime

The wildlife crime differs from other crime forms like murder, drugs, etc but the crime is an offense that is punishable for at least 4 years or more. Wildlife crimes come under serious crimes.

Constitution of India

In the directive principle of state policy in the constitution of India, it is said that in article 51(A) (g) to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.

It is the fundamental duty of every citizen to protect the natural environment and protect wild animals given under article 246 of the constitution of India.

Article 48 (A) deals with the protection and improvement of the environment and safeguarding of forests and wildlife. The state shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.

Wildlife Protection Act, 1972

The Act provides for the establishment of wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, etc. The Act helped India to become a part of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES is a multilateral treaty with the objective of protecting animals and plants.  The act provided protection area for the animals as Sanctuaries, national parks, conservation reserves, community reserves, tiger reserves, etc. in the Act there are a total of six schedules. It is applicable throughout India.

There are some major threats to wildlife are- hunting, poaching, pollution, climate change, habitat destruction, fragmentation, overexploitation of habitat resources, etc.

The UNODC that is the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes included wildlife crimes in the list of transactional organized crimes in 2003. It is defined by the UNODC that “A group of two or more persons come together to commit one or more crimes to obtain financial benefit or material benefit is a TOC that is transactional organized crimes.

Causes of death in wildlife [4] 

The death of wildlife can be attributed to natural and non- natural, human-induced, causes. Natural death can occur due to disease, starvation, decrepitude, predation, Intra-/interspecific fights, natural disasters (strikes, lightning, flooding, landslides, thunderstorms, etc), ingestion of toxic plants, etc.

The non-natural death of the animals can be occurred due to human induces legal causes can be legal hunting, electrocution, collisions with a vehicle, trains, aircraft, power lines, windmills, etc, the human-induced illegal causes can be trapping, illegal shooting, poisoning, etc.

The wildlife crime scene documentation includes –

Notes

Oral recordings

Photography/videography

Searching a wildlife crime scene

Collection of evidence at a suspected wildlife crime site

Chain of custody

People to be interviewed in wildlife crime cases

Limitations of protein marker-based identification [5]

The apoptosis process during hair biogenesis is the major reason behind the poor DNA extraction from hair. In the biogenesis process of hair, most of the DNA degraded and only a trace of DNA extracted Range of discrimination also has not been established to date.

Forensic techniques [6]

Serological techniques

Serological techniques supported interaction between antibody and their cognate antigen a bit like the lock and key model. Species-specific antibodies are used for the identification of species of origin of the biological evidence. The concerning problems with serological techniques are that the non-availability of species-specific antibodies in our laboratory. Also, there’s a wide report that cross-reactions of antibodies in non-target species sometimes produce positive results. Therefore, it is only considered as a presumptive test within the forensic analysis

Microscopic examination

It includes the morphology, elemental analysis, and cuticular scale pattern of the hair. Hair plays an important role which may be wont to identify the species. Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) is often utilized for the identification of the animal’s supported hair evidence. The main limitations of microscopic techniques are that it requires samples for microscopic examination in well preserved.

Molecular biology techniques

DNA molecular techniques are utilized in wildlife forensic investigation concern with the poaching of animals (mammals, birds, etc) from national parks and guarded areas in South Korea, Italy, and other countries. Molecular techniques are proven to be more reliable compared to other techniques like anatomy, morphology, serology also microscopic. Initially, DNA-based methods utilized were Random Amplified Polymorphic DNA (RAPD), Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism (AFLP), and Random Fragment Length Polymorphism (RFLP)

Infra-red techniques

Recently, It’s has been reported that spectroscopies like mid-infrared (mid-IR), near-infrared (NIR), and Raman together with chemometric techniques are highly efficient to discriminate species and also helps in the identification of geographical origins of herbal medicines. However, NIR spectroscopy is wide thanks to high reliability, low cost, and straightforward analysis of biological evidence like soil, food, and beverages.

Radioisotopes tracer techniques

This technique is employed to detect the trace elements within the evidence that remain in wildlife forensic. Radioisotopes are more abundant at different locations and therefore the presence of these radioisotopes provides the information and knowledge about their most probable origin supported the isotopes abundance maps. There are two main types of elements that are incorporated into the body; essential and trace. The non-essential elements include aluminum, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, molybdenum, nickel, lead, and tin.

Footprints Analysis

Footprints of wildlife species are important evidence within the forensic analysis of species. Footprints are impressions of animals foot on surfaces where they walkout or places of their captivity. The sort and age of the species identification are predicated on the pattern of the footprints and their size. The major or main problem with footprint impressions based identification of species includes is an undetectable footprint on hard surfaces and sometimes these footprint sites are often contaminated by the presence of other animals.

Conclusion

The wildlife deals with undomesticated animal species, includes all plants, fungi, and other organisms that grow without being introduced by humans or live wild in any area. As per the wildlife protection act, 1972 “wildlife” includes any aquatics, animals which form part of any habitat.  Forensics is the collection, preserving, analyzing, and reporting of evidence for the application of science in a criminal investigation. Wildlife crimes can occur in many forms that can be in the form of illegal keeping of wildlife, damaging the health of wildlife, killing of wildlife by inappropriate means, or under unlawful conditions. Wildlife crime differs from other crime forms like murder, drugs, etc but the crime is an offense that is punishable for at least 4 years or more for doing the wildlife crime. Wildlife crimes come under serious crimes. The forensics techniques are Serological techniques, Microscopic examination, Molecular biology techniques, Infra-red techniques, Radioisotopes tracer techniques, Footprints Analysis.

FAQ [Frequently asked questions]

[1] state the Limitations of protein marker-based identification?

Answer – The apoptosis process during hair biogenesis is the major reason behind the poor DNA extraction from hair.

[2] mention the forensics techniques.

Answer- The forensics techniques are Serological techniques, Microscopic examination, Molecular biology techniques, Infra-red techniques, Radioisotopes tracer techniques, Footprints Analysis.

[3] state the causes of death in wildlife?   

Answer – The death of wildlife can be attributed to natural and non- natural, human-induced.

[4] what does DPSP of the Constitution of India, Article 51 (A) say?

Answer – In the directive principle of state policy in the constitution of India, it is said that in article 51(A) (g) to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.

[5] Article 48 of the constitution of India deals with.

Answer – Article 48 (A) deals with the protection and improvement of the environment and safeguarding of forests and wildlife. The state shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.

References

[1] Journal of Forensic Science & Criminology annex publishers, Wildlife Forensic: Current Techniques and their Limitations, Nishant K, Vrijesh KY* and Ajay KR, available at  

http://www.annexpublishers.co/articles/JFSC/5402-Wildlife-Forensic-Current-Techniques-and-their-Limitations.pdf, volume 5, issue 4, ISSN: 2348-9804 (last visited on October 18, 2020)

[2] handbook standard operating procedures for forensics investigations of suspected illegal killing of wildlife available at https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.alpine-space.eu/projects/alpbionet2030/wpt2/d.t2.2.1_-practical-handbook-on-forensic-procedures-in-wildlife-crime.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwji3r-T1r7sAhXdxDgGHe7wCs4QFjANegQIBRAB&usg=AOvVaw1-iRNaO54nmHm560Af60V0 (the last date visited on October 18, 2020)

[3] wildlife crime investigation a handbook for wildlife crime investigation officers.

[4] ibid, 2

[5] Journal of Forensic Science & Criminology annex publishers, Wildlife Forensic: Current Techniques and their Limitations,

http://www.annexpublishers.co/articles/JFSC/5402-Wildlife-Forensic-Current-Techniques-and-their-Limitations.pdf, volume 5, issue 4, ISSN: 2348-9804 (last visited on October 18, 2020)

[6] ibid, 5

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