media release

Experts teach tips on solving wildlife crime

July 25, 2011

Gail Anderson, 778.782.3589;
PAMR, 778.782.3210

Gail Anderson
Photo on Flickr

Insects can provide critical clues about time and place of death for homicide investigators, but they play a similarly valuable role in solving wildlife crime, says Simon Fraser University criminologist Gail Anderson.

Anderson, a forensic entomologist, is taking that message to classrooms of park officials, wardens and conservation officers to teach them how to collect evidence that can help stamp out crimes involving animals.

A co-director of SFU’s Centre for Forensic Research, Anderson is part of a team of wildlife crime investigation experts who collaborate to teach Wildlife Field Forensics (WFF), a workshop aimed at improving training methods for those working in the field.

Run by Carleen Gonder, a U.S.-based wildlife forensic specialist and retired federal law enforcement officer, the workshop is based and taught in Montana, but for the past two years the expert-group has become a travelling road show, taking their combined expertise to seminars as far off as Katmai, Alaska (in June) and the Mohave Desert (last fall).

Their next gig is Lethbridge, Alberta (Aug 8–12). Participants learn about firearms evidence, DNA collection, field necropsy techniques, decomposition stage assessment for time of death, and the collection of tire and boot marks.

“Insects don’t care whether they are feeding on a dead human being or a dead bear, so forensic entomology can be just as useful in a wildlife crime case as in a homicide,” says Anderson.

“Unfortunately conservation officers are not nearly as aware of forensic evidence as police officers. It’s something I really want to change.”

Penalties are being more seriously imposed in wildlife crime cases, which means more offenders are seeking experienced lawyers. “The evidentiary standards for what we do are just as high in a wildlife crime as in a human homicide - the science needs to be just as strong,” she stresses.

Wildlife crime is far more prevalent than most people realize, adds Gonder. “Victims can’t talk or be reported missing, patrol areas for single wardens are vast and remote, and offenders are well aware of both points.”

Offenders range from the well off, who are able to finance a good defense of their crimes, to black marketers or serial criminals involved in other crime.

Anderson says those on the team are willing to take on more animal cases and hope investigators will come calling once they know more about the sciences that can help them.

Backgrounder: Gail Anderson

Gail Anderson, an SFU criminologist and Canada’s first full-time entomologist, began assisting with homicide cases as a grad student more than 20 years ago – long before the TV show CSI made the work fashionable.

“I was fascinated that I could apply my knowledge of insects in such a useful manner,” she says. Since then she’s been involved in 10-20 human death investigations a year and works routinely on cases with conservation investigators in both Canada and the U.S.

Anderson has fostered thoughts on better educating wildlife crime investigators since her involvement in a landmark case nearly 15 years ago.

An officer investigating a serial bear killing happened to collect insects from a pair of dead cubs, helping Anderson pin down the time of death. It resulted in the first jail sentence for this specific offence in Canada.


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