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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wildlife Forensics

From WWF Canada
Wildlife forensics experts meet
By Ernie Cooper, Director, TRAFFIC and Wildlife Trade
I got my start working on wildlife trade issues back in 1988 when I was given a contract to identify wildlife products detained by Canada Customs for CITES enforcement. I didn’t realize at the time that I was being initiated into the world of wildlife forensics: the use of science to help solve wildlife crimes.

Although the field of wildlife forensics includes pathology and other disciplines, most of the focus is on identification of wildlife, parts and derivatives. It was a pretty lonely field back then. Reference materials for identifying exotic species were scarce and there were few experts to consult with.

How times have changed! Last week I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural meeting of the Society for Wildlife Forensic Science, which took place April 18-23, 2010 in Ashland, Oregon. This was the largest gathering of international wildlife forensic scientists ever held, with 129 individuals coming from ten countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The Society for Wildlife Forensic Sciences was formed in November 2009. Its mission is to develop wildlife forensic science into a comprehensive, integrated and mature discipline.

The meeting included three workshops on Hair Identification, Statistical Genetics for DNA Identification, and Real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) [PCR is a technique to make millions of copies of a particular DNA sequence]; followed by 2 ½ days of poster and oral plenary presentations. Two posters were co-authored by the TRAFFIC & Wildlife Trade team in collaboration with Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Forensic Research and Ancient DNA Laboratory:

• The Use of Hydrogen Peroxide to Alter Black Coral (Antipatharia) for the Purpose of Imitating Gold Coral (Gerardia sp.), (Angela Leung, Ernest W.T. Cooper, Tanya Shadbolt, Mark Skinner, PhD).
• Ancient DNA Analysis of Dried Coral Samples: An Accurate DNA-based Identification of Threatened Species of Support of Wildlife Trade Law Enforcement (Ursula Arndt, MA., Camilla Speller, Ernest W.T. Cooper, Angela Leung, Mark Skinner, PhD., Dongya Yang, PhD.).

The best part of the meeting was of course the opportunity to see old friends and make new contacts. We are developing quite a shopping list of wildlife forensic research topics we intend to explore in the next couple of years. The next meeting of the Society will be in 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia. We will have plenty to talk about.

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