Wildlife forensics is the distinctive field evolved for wildlife crime investigations. Proscribed trade of exotic wildlife species, poaching/ hunting animals, and trafficking products of animal parts and plants creates risk in flora and fauna conservation with ecosystem imbalance globally. Utilization of forensic science on illegal wildlife crimes integrates the knowledge on bioscience, environmental science, scientific techniques and procedures to analyse, identify and compare the evidence sample collected from the spot of crime with the suspect and the victimized/ exterminated organism. The Centre for Wildlife Forensic Sciences at AIWC deals with analysis of various types of wildlife samples through morphometric and DNA based analysis.
Creation of referral repository of specimen collection of reference specimen representing different taxa (mammals, reptiles, birds, etc) from all over Tamil Nadu through the support of forest department and AIWC researchers. This reference specimen repository is vital for giving robust results to forest department in case of a crime.
Constant improvement in the field of molecular taxonomy for accurate identification of animal species under illegal trade in Tamil Nadu: This is achieved by adopting to new methods in molecular biology and bioinformatics, specific to wildlife forensics.
Morphological examination of artifacts: The morphometry lab at AIWC study the morphological property of collected specimen like, long bones, antlers, ivory, hair, skin/leather to identify traded wildlife articles.
The morphometry lab at Advanced Institute for Wildlife Conservation is equipped with facilities to identify the credibility (original or fake) of wildlife article that is seized by the forest department. At present the lab can process mammalian hair samples to identify if its originality and ascertain the taxonomical family to which it belongs. The lab is involved in standardizing protocols for species identification using samples such as bones, antlers, claws, tusks, etc. using a combination of morphometric and analytical methods. The lab is also involved in development of reference repository of wildlife artifacts from the state forest department.For example, the Lab’s morphometrist are routinely asked to answer questions like these:
Emeritus Scientist from WII, Dehradun at Morphometry Lab in May 2019
Researchers at Morphometry Lab
Dr Sugato Dutt, APCCF, SF & Extension in Morphometry Lab at AIWC
In each case, the first possibility would represent a serious violation of wildlife law, while the second would be a legal use of animal products.
Dr Shekhar K. Niraj, Director,AIWC explaining the salient features of identifying snake skin leather to the forensic workshop trainees
Dr C.P. Sharma of Wildlife Institute of India describes the species specific antler characterization to the forensic workshop trainees
The DNA & Scat DNA labs are involved in using modern techniques of molecular genetics for species identification of wildlife specimens involved in wildlife crime investigations. The labs are equipped with genetic repository of reference samples required for identification of unknown biological samples. The techniques can be used to identify species from biological materials of unknown origin, based on amplification of mitochondrial DNA markers. DNA is retrieved from wildlife samples such as meat, skin, blood, scat, bones, antlers, teeth, hair and feathers, etc. The labs provide scientific support in the form of DNA analysis to wildlife offence cases of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department and other stakeholders.
Researcher conducting experiment in forensic DNA lab
APCCF Dr.Sugato Dutt interacting with researchers in Forensic DNA lab
Researchers during their lab work in Forensic DNA lab