Scope of wildlife forensics
The variety of evidence in wildlife forensic cases is vast, potentially encompassing the entire biodiversity of the planet. It can range from a van full of boots made from the hides of endangered sea turtles, to shipments of elephant tusks, coral jewelry, and shark fins, to trophy elk, oil-soaked birds, wild ginseng, or blood from a dog fighting pit. In cases of seafood fraud, evidence can consist of an entire vessel-load of frozen fish. Wildlife forensic science deals with activities – including illegal traffic in protected wildlife, illegal, unregulated, and unreported fisheries, and the illegal timber trade – whose potential value has been estimated to total up to $50 billion a year. Taken together, these activities comprise the third largest form of illegal international trade, after drugs and weapons.
While animals and plants are the victims in the crimes of illegal wildlife trade and animal abuse, society also pays a heavy price when those crimes are used to fund illegal drugs, weapons and terrorism. Links between human trafficking, public corruption and illegal fishing have also been reported. The continued development and integration of wildlife forensic science as a field will be critical for successful management of the many significant social and conservation issues related to the illegal wildlife trade and wildlife law enforcement.