Forensic Science International

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Forensic Science International 153 (2005) 218–221 www.elsevier.com/locate/forsciint

Short communication

DNA forensics and the poaching of wildlife in Italy: A case study Rita Lorenzini *
Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale dell’Abruzzo e del Molise ‘‘G. Caporale’’, Campo Boario, I-64100 Teramo, Italy Received 5 December 2004; received in revised form 21 April 2005; accepted 21 April 2005 Available online 25 May 2005

Abstract DNA molecular techniques were used in a forensic investigation involving the poaching of wildlife in a national park of Italy. A poacher, after having snared a wild boar (Sus scrofa) sow, knifed it to death. The animal was retrieved by conservation officers at the scene before the poacher could remove the carcass. Subsequently, the suspect denied the charges. During a search of his home, a bloodstained knife was confiscated. A method to identify the species from the DNA extracted from the stains revealed the blood to be that of the non-domestic form of Sus scrofa. Further DNA typing for individual identity using species-specific single tandem repeats or microsatellites (STRs) showed that the DNA on the knife matched that of the poached boar. Based upon the forensic evidence obtained, the suspect was convicted of poaching and of cruelty to animals. # 2005 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Wildlife; Poaching; mtDNA; Microsatellites; Species identification; Genotyping

1. Introduction Although the wildlife in the national parks of Italy is strictly protected by law, poaching remains a perennial problem with protected or even highly endangered species succumbing regularly to snares, poisoned baits, and the hunting rifle. Despite the frequency of poaching, the perpetrators are seldom charged with breaking the law; even more rarely are such individuals caught in the act of transgression. The modern advent of molecular DNA forensics now adds a new dimension to wildlife law enforcement and may, eventually, also serve as an added deterrent. Molecular data is sometimes the only type of information available to conservation officials in their field investigations. The latest DNA-based technologies today make it feasible to identify single individuals by DNA typing from only trace amounts of their genetic material [1]. The genetic relatedness of these individuals, and their gender, can be determined also. However, molecular forensics of wildlife is more complex than * Tel.: +39 0861 3321; fax: +39 0861 332251. E-mail address: r.lorenzini@izs.it.

that for humans principally due to the lack of a suite of standardised laboratory protocols for both individual and sex identification. Furthermore, the application of DNA technologies in wildlife forensics demands not only that gender and individual profiling be determined, but that the target animal species be also identified correctly [2,3]. The identification of individuals, particularly, depends upon a comprehensive array of species-specific microsatellite primer pairs being available, so making the forensic aspects surrounding human transgressions against wildlife reliant upon the expertise of individual researchers. The successful resolution of a case involving the poaching of wildlife, and using molecular methods, is reported upon in this short note.

2. Case history A poacher, after snaring a wild boar sow in one of the national parks of Italy, stabbed the animal with a knife. After allowing it to bleed to death, the poacher hid the carcass with the intention of waiting until nightfall to remove it. However,

0379-0738/$ – see front matter # 2005 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2005.04.032

R. Lorenzini / Forensic Science International 153 (2005) 218–221

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conservation officers on routine patrol discovered the dead boar; they hid in close proximity and later caught the poacher upon his return. However, there was no evidence that he was involved directly in the poaching of the animal claiming...
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