A forensic toolkit for the examination of wildlife crime using the Glossy Black-Cockatoo as a model species

  • Jo Lee

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The illegal trade in wildlife is a serious and growing crime and one to which Australia is not immune. Worldwide it is thought to cost between US$10 and US$20 billion dollars annually. The trafficking of birds, in particular the parrots, is a known feature of the illegal trade in wildlife. The Glossy Black-Cockatoo, Calyptorhynchus lathami, (Psittaciformes: Cacatuidae) was chosen as a model species as it is difficult to breed in captivity and, as the rarest of the Black-Cockatoos, is vulnerable to poaching. This thesis explores a number of techniques including microscopy and DNA technologies that can be utilised to assist in the investigation of instances of illegal trading in wildlife. One of the greatest challenges facing the policing of the illegal wildlife trade is the provision of evidence. For DNA evidence to be presented in court, an understanding of the population and genetic structure of target species of concern is required in order to for the results to be interpreted. As a result, a great deal of this thesis involves an investigation of the population and genetic structure of C. lathami. In investigating the genetics of C. lathami, a great deal of genetic information is obtained that can be used to inform conservation management of the species as well as the forensic applications. This highlights the benefit of forensic scientists and conservation biologist working together. This thesis produces a hierarchical approach to the investigation of wildlife crime involving birds, where by: (i) feathers can be used to determine a broad range of potential species of origin of a seized specimen; (ii) mtDNA analysis can be used to provide details as to the likely population of origin, and to exclude an individual as coming from a particular matriarchal lineage; and (iii) microsatellite analysis can be used to provide further inference regarding the population of origin, to differentiate among individuals and to investigate pedigrees. C. lathami was used as the model species however the approach could be applied to other species of bird in the same way. In Australia, attempts to combat the illegal wildlife trade are complicated by the fact that it is situated at the interface between regulation and law enforcement. In addition, the bulk of the expertise resides with individuals working in institutions without accreditation and who are not used to operating in the forensic environment. On the other hand, whilst forensic scientists have the appropriate experience in evidence handling to ensure admissibility they are by nature generalists. For wildlife forensic science to progress in Australia we need to develop stronger partnerships between scientists in fundamental areas of science, academia, museums and government forensic laboratories. Furthermore there needs to a coordinated approach, focusing on the species targeted by those involved in the illegal trade and those species at greatest risk from the illegal trade.
    Date of Award2013
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorStephen Sarre (Supervisor) & James Robertson (Supervisor)

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