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Professor Gail Anderson trains US game wardens in Montana
Game wardens from across the United States gathered for the annual Advanced Training for Wildlife Crime Scene Investigators Seminar held in Seeley Lake, Montana earlier this month.
The seminar hosted by Wildlife Field Forensics returned this year after a pandemic hiatus. It is the only workshop of its kind in the U.S. focused on forensics for wildlife cases and has convened in various locations throughout the U.S. and Canada since its inception in 2007.
Simon Fraser University Criminology professor Gail Anderson has been a pivotal instructor with the program since 2008, given her extensive background in entomology and her work on homicide cases in Canada.
“How could we be so fortunate to have her? She consistently has the highest scores on our evaluations,” says Carleen Gonder, founder and executive director of Wildlife Field Forensics. “Attendees easily relate to and with her. Not only does she provide critically important wildlife crime scene information, but it's also the way she presents her work that grabs people.”
This year, the seminar covered a wide range of topics relevant for investigators responding to wildlife crime scenes, such as:
- Case histories
- Decomposition analysis
- DNA analysis and collection
- Field demonstrations
- Firearms and ammunition examination
- Forensic entomology
- Wildlife attacks and wildlife conflict programs
Some wildlife crimes in North America are committed to fuel the illicit wildlife trade, such as the trade in bear bile. The bile is extracted from the gall bladder of bears and used for some Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) purposes.
One Canadian case involved two black bear cubs who were killed, and their gall bladders removed. Adult blow flies collected at the scene and analyzed by Anderson, supported a time of death consistent with suspects presence at the scene. Anderson identified the importance of this case, as it was the first-time insects had been used in a wildlife crime case in the country.
Professor Anderson’s black bear case example and experience highlighted the importance for wildlife investigators to understand how insect collection at a scene can help an investigation.
Wildlife Entomology Sessions
Professor Anderson’s entomology sessions at the seminar highlighted how the collection of maggots, flies, and beetles from animal carcasses can help answer key questions in a wildlife investigation.
In a real-life case, insects collected by an investigator at the scene may identify wounds and be further analyzed by an expert entomologist to provide a time of death window. During the field day session, game wardens took turns collecting insects from two deer carcasses at different stages of decomposition and searching for pupa around the scene.
Professor Anderson’s sessions captivated attendees, where some game wardens had never practiced collecting insects at a scene before the field day.
Professor Anderson explained how the time of death may be used to identify–or exonerate–possible suspects. But such analyses can only be done if the insects are collected. Professor Anderson’s lasting advice? Insects are evidence!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Samantha de Vries is a PhD Candidate in the School of Criminology. Samantha's research on regional and international cooperation in wildlife criminal matters, under the supervision of professor Anderson, is supported in part through a SSHRC Doctoral Award. Samantha has been a sessional instructor at SFU for her course 'Crimes Against the Environment' and she is currently a consultant with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Global Programme on Crimes that Affect the Environment.