Centre for wildlife forensic sciences

The Morphometry Section of the Centre for Wildlife Forensic Sciences uses the classic techniques of comparative anatomy to identify wild animal specimens that aid in species identification.  “Identifying the victim” is a primary step in wildlife crime investigations, as the identity of animal needs to be established for determination of violation of wildlife laws and conviction of the perpetrator.

For example, the Lab’s morphometrist are routinely asked to answer questions like these:
  • Is this carving made from elephant ivory or cattle bone or fake?
  • Is this fur coat is of genuine snow leopard or dyed rabbit?
  • Are these feathers from grey jungle fowl or domestic turkey? 

  • 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

    Initial examination and documentation of species specific characters of a specimen are followed by detailed comparisons between the evidence and reference specimens available with the laboratory, or standards.  The verification of diagnostic characters with reference specimens or authoritative published data is essential for the morphological identifications made at this Forensics laboratory. Therefore, reference specimen collections of the Morphometry laboratory are critical for our work. We plan to maintain a variety of specialized collections tailored to the particular needs of wildlife forensics.  These include hair and feather samples cleared, fixed and mounted on glass slides for microscopic species identification; skins and skeletons as a research collection for natural history museum; collections of reptile leather, loose feathers and finished products that include verified examples of protected species.Reference repository of long bones, skulls and taxidermy models for morphological studies in wildlife forensic research (Credit: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service) 

    The DNA Section of the Forensic Laboratory uses the modern techniques of molecular genetics for the identification of wildlife specimens, collected as evidences at wildlife crime scene.  The scope of DNA-based analysis in forensic investigations extends from application in identification of unknown species to assessing relatedness among individuals and populations. They include DNA-based species identification, individual identification, sexing, and geographic assignment of wildlife that are being illegally trafficked. Nucleotide sequence analysis of mitochondrial Cytochrome b (Cytb) is effective in identifying many species groups (Parson et al. 2000; Hsieh et al. 2001; Branicki et al. 2003). The region of the mt Cyt b that is used for universal identification of animal species consists of 472 base-pairs (Verma & Singh, 2003).This method is suitable for the identification of DNA from various biological materials of unknown origin. It has been tested against a broad taxonomic range of animal species (Verma & Singh, 2003). The method is designed to work with samples like skin, meat, blood, bones, feathers etc. It is also successful with cooked meat products, but success is dependent on the intensity of cooking.

    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

    Schematic representation of mt DNA – Cyt b, the preferred site for species identification in mammalian species

    Dr. Pradeep performing a Gel electrophoresis of amplified DNA for species identification at CCMB - LaCONES.

    The nuclear DNA of animals contains short tandem repeats (STR) comprised of 2-6 base pair units that are scattered along the autosomal and sex chromosomes (Dawnay et al. 2008).  STR loci display high levels of polymorphism that is detected as length polymorphism by PCR amplification with locus-specific primers.  The amplified DNA is analyzed by direct sizing with Gel electrophoresis.  If two evidence samples exhibit the same alleles at a suite of different loci, the probability of the samples originating from the same individual is inferred from the frequency distribution of the observed alleles in a database of the species of interest. The Forensic DNA Section performs STR analysis for purposes of individual identification, assignment of population of origin, parentage determination and species identification (Gaur et al. 2004).

    This Forensic DNA lab uses PCR amplification of the sex chromosome loci ZFX (Aasen and Medrano, 1990) and SRY (Pomp et al. 1995) to determine the gender origin of mammalian samples.  The amplification products are analyzed by direct sizing with polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis.  Females exhibit a single ZFX amplification product originating from the two X chromosomes.  Males exhibit two differently sized amplification products: one from the ZFX on the X chromosomes and a second from the SRY locus exclusive to the mammalian Y chromosome.   This Forensic DNA lab also uses PCR amplification of the sex chromosome locus CHD (Griffiths et al. 1996) to determine the gender origin of bird samples.  The amplification products are analyzed by direct sizing with polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis.  Gender determination in birds differs from mammals in that females rather than males exhibit heterogamety.  CHD, the chromo-helicase binding protein, is present as a pair of duplicated gene loci on the W and Z chromosomes.  Female birds have both W and Z chromosomes, whereas males have two Z chromosomes.  The presence of the W chromosome marker is diagnostic for the female sex in most non-ratite birds (except the family of flightless birds)

    Dr. Sivaprakasam extracting DNA from unknown tissue sample at CCMB - LaCONES.