With species all across the globe declining at an alarming rate due in part to rampant poaching and the illegal wildlife trade, techniques and skills necessary to combat these crimes are of dire importance. Wildlife conservation officers worldwide face innumerable threats and challenges and often have only minimal, inadequate training, placing them at a considerable disadvantage when confronted with the sophistication and seemingly limitless financial capabilities of poachers backed by corrupt but wealthy organizations. Even in the U.S., where resources are more plentiful, enforcement officers still face a dearth of practical training that would enable them to battle the often underreported but rampant instances of illegal hunting. Wildlife forensics, or applying forensic science procedures typically used in human cases to those involving wildlife, is one such technique that can prove immensely valuable. Recent developments in the use of DNA to combat animal poaching have increased the awareness and utility of forensic science and all of its branches.
Applying forensic science approaches such as evidentiary analysis of items like DNA, trace evidence such as hair, feathers, or bone, animal track identification, or the classification of imported, exported or traded animal products can be used to hunt down and identify criminals. But training officers and investigators in the recognition of what constitutes indisputable, demonstrative evidence is often overlooked or ignored. Paltry funding for officer education is one reason for the underutilization of these skills, as is a lack of awareness of the existence of the science’s applicability, along with a deficit in qualified educators. But courts are demanding more and more irrefutable evidence when and if these types of cases are presented. Education and instruction into proper crime scene processing, recognition of important case factors, and what to do with evidence once it is identified is vital to those whose job it is to fight these types of crimes, as it may be the only thing that saves their cases. While applying forensics to wildlife crime may be only one tool an officer or investigator utilizes, it should be considered an invaluable one. Arming those who are tasked with defending nature with this knowledge may just be integral to the preservation of biodiversity, resource sustainability, and wildlife itself.