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State govt urged to set up wildlife forensic lab soon

By Debasish Baruah
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KAZIRANGA, Sept 29 - Wildlife crime is now a serious issue worldwide, needing a comprehensive approach by the authorities to control. In India, including in various parts of the North-east region, poachers coming from neighbouring States and countries (given the open international border), have killed wild animals including elephants, tigers and rhinos in different protected forests but the rate of conviction is not up to the mark due to incomplete process of investigation. This is mainly due to non-availability of special Wildlife Forensic science laboratories in Assam and other parts of the region as without proper laboratory examination, diagnosis of parts of carcasses of wild animals remain incomplete and no confirmed facts can be established.

Speaking to this correspondent, Prof (Dr) Munmun Sarma from the Department of Anatomy, College of Veterinary Science, Khanapara said that Forensic Science is a service of law, justice and detection of crime and criminals. Forensic Science is concerned primarily with application of scientific principles in the investigation of crime. She said that the application of forensics in wildlife is a newly developed area of science to check wildlife cruelty worldwide.

When asked as to whether sufficient resources are available in Assam and parts of north eastern States to control wildlife crime, given the open international border with Bangladesh and Myanmar, Prof Sarma informed that current forensic science resources under the Assam government were not sufficient as they are not solely dedicated to wildlife. There are shortcomings for which a separate dedicated wildlife forensic laboratory in collaboration with the Department of Anatomy of the College of Veterinary Science at Khanapara was needed to look into the matters pertaining to wildlife crime in Assam and parts of the north-eastern region. This would enable wildlife law enforcement agencies to bring the culprits to book.

She added that forensic science experts have to bring forward three important points to ascertain the legality of the case: (a) Name of the species killed and from where does it come; (b) whether killing of that particular animal was legal and (c) if not legal then how was the crime committed.

Prof Sarma added that it is necessary that agencies guarding the international border are aware of the application of forensic science in any wildlife crime.

When asked by this correspondent whether it is possible to determine the type of weapons used by poachers in killing wild animals through forensic application, Prof Sarma said forensic application can help in determining weapon used by poachers, help in identification of flight (of bullet) and behaviour, adding that State Forest department needs to establish a dedicated and a state of the art wildlife forensic laboratory in Assam, to develop a modern museum where all the necessary information about molecular, morphological and microscopic and ultrastructure as well as mtDNA sequence of prevalent wildlife fauna be made available. This can then form a strong data bank for veterinary experts.

When asked about immediate need of hour, Prof Sarma said that a dedicated wildlife forensic laboratory should be set up in Assam and a standard operating procedure be put in place for conducting post mortem, collection of samples etc., and ensuring coordination among forest department and veterinary experts.

Dr Jahan Ahmed, who is a wildlife veterinarian working on forensic application said wildlife criminals are using advanced technology and methods in carrying out wildlife crime. So it is necessary that investigation agencies use and train themselves in such a way that they are one step ahead of those criminals. He said some basic questions need to be answered through forensic application like species identification, age, etc., including the cause of death.

Dr Ahmed informed that the cause of death in case of elephants are usually diagnosed by examining the gross lesion but those things are not confirmed in a laboratory due to which it is difficult to convict the offenders in court and therefore it becomes necessary to have these things examined in a wildlife forensic laboratory. Similarly, the suspected poisoning cases of wild animals can be confirmed by the use of forensic toxicology which in turn will help in conviction of criminals, he added.

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State govt urged to set up wildlife forensic lab soon

KAZIRANGA, Sept 29 - Wildlife crime is now a serious issue worldwide, needing a comprehensive approach by the authorities to control. In India, including in various parts of the North-east region, poachers coming from neighbouring States and countries (given the open international border), have killed wild animals including elephants, tigers and rhinos in different protected forests but the rate of conviction is not up to the mark due to incomplete process of investigation. This is mainly due to non-availability of special Wildlife Forensic science laboratories in Assam and other parts of the region as without proper laboratory examination, diagnosis of parts of carcasses of wild animals remain incomplete and no confirmed facts can be established.

Speaking to this correspondent, Prof (Dr) Munmun Sarma from the Department of Anatomy, College of Veterinary Science, Khanapara said that Forensic Science is a service of law, justice and detection of crime and criminals. Forensic Science is concerned primarily with application of scientific principles in the investigation of crime. She said that the application of forensics in wildlife is a newly developed area of science to check wildlife cruelty worldwide.

When asked as to whether sufficient resources are available in Assam and parts of north eastern States to control wildlife crime, given the open international border with Bangladesh and Myanmar, Prof Sarma informed that current forensic science resources under the Assam government were not sufficient as they are not solely dedicated to wildlife. There are shortcomings for which a separate dedicated wildlife forensic laboratory in collaboration with the Department of Anatomy of the College of Veterinary Science at Khanapara was needed to look into the matters pertaining to wildlife crime in Assam and parts of the north-eastern region. This would enable wildlife law enforcement agencies to bring the culprits to book.

She added that forensic science experts have to bring forward three important points to ascertain the legality of the case: (a) Name of the species killed and from where does it come; (b) whether killing of that particular animal was legal and (c) if not legal then how was the crime committed.

Prof Sarma added that it is necessary that agencies guarding the international border are aware of the application of forensic science in any wildlife crime.

When asked by this correspondent whether it is possible to determine the type of weapons used by poachers in killing wild animals through forensic application, Prof Sarma said forensic application can help in determining weapon used by poachers, help in identification of flight (of bullet) and behaviour, adding that State Forest department needs to establish a dedicated and a state of the art wildlife forensic laboratory in Assam, to develop a modern museum where all the necessary information about molecular, morphological and microscopic and ultrastructure as well as mtDNA sequence of prevalent wildlife fauna be made available. This can then form a strong data bank for veterinary experts.

When asked about immediate need of hour, Prof Sarma said that a dedicated wildlife forensic laboratory should be set up in Assam and a standard operating procedure be put in place for conducting post mortem, collection of samples etc., and ensuring coordination among forest department and veterinary experts.

Dr Jahan Ahmed, who is a wildlife veterinarian working on forensic application said wildlife criminals are using advanced technology and methods in carrying out wildlife crime. So it is necessary that investigation agencies use and train themselves in such a way that they are one step ahead of those criminals. He said some basic questions need to be answered through forensic application like species identification, age, etc., including the cause of death.

Dr Ahmed informed that the cause of death in case of elephants are usually diagnosed by examining the gross lesion but those things are not confirmed in a laboratory due to which it is difficult to convict the offenders in court and therefore it becomes necessary to have these things examined in a wildlife forensic laboratory. Similarly, the suspected poisoning cases of wild animals can be confirmed by the use of forensic toxicology which in turn will help in conviction of criminals, he added.