Forensic Academy Launched In Cape Town To Fight Wildlife Crime

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A new weapon in the form of a specialised forensic academy has been launched in the Western Cape to help in the fight against wildlife crime. 

The Wildlife Forensic Academy, a state-of-the-art forensic training platform to protect and preserve wildlife around the globe, was launched at Buffelsfontein Nature Reserve on the West Coast on Friday, 13 May 2022.

Dr. Greg Simpson, Director and co-founder of the WFA, said: “It must be understood that in most cases wildlife poaching is linked to organised crime. 

“Using forensic evidence to bolster a criminal case can help combat poaching, due to increased prosecution levels, subsequent financial chain disruptions and thus reduced repetitive crimes.”

Dr. Simpson says most wildlife crime scenes are entered, trampled, and contaminated, thus destroying key evidence which could help in building strong cases against suspects and the organised crime syndicates fuelling the illicit trade in poaching wildlife.

The Wildlife Forensic Academy hopes to change that by training and providing expert knowledge to help build databases and capability in the fight against illicit trade.

“In many cases, the specifics of a crime are not understood,” Andro Vos, WFA CEO and Founder said. 

“The crime scene is entered and disrupted, with evidence being inadvertently altered due to the lack of forensic exploration. 

“This leads to poor evidence and, in many cases, criminals and syndicates escape prosecution which invariably leads to unchecked and increasing levels of crime.”

The Wildlife Forensic Academy aims to provide forensic knowledge, awareness, and training to the likes of game rangers, forensics students, veterinary students, conservation students, and ecology students.

Dr. Simpson added: “The killing, poaching or abuse of animals happens in many cases in remote areas or in hidden places. 

“Due to this there are never witness statements. We can only solve these cases with forensic evidence. That’s why we have to mobilise forensic knowledge and techniques.”

He said this would include collecting and analysing evidence such as human traces, non-human traces, chemical traces, physical traces and digital traces. 

“We are able to detect, collect and analyse these traces to solve and prevent crime,” he added.

One of the key training elements at WFA focuses on Forensic Intelligence which Dr. Simpson said is making use of data sets to better understand what nature reserves are up against.

“Effective anti-poaching operations rely heavily on ranger patrols,” Dr. Simpson explained. 

“Nature conservation areas, however, are very big and boots on the ground comparatively scarce. The question is, how can we help the rangers to outwit the poachers?

“One of the answers is to make better use of data. Even in the remotest of remote nature conservation areas, gigabytes of data are being generated by rangers, animal trackers, wildlife cameras, aerial surveys, and satellites.  

“This happens at ever increasing volumes, varieties and velocities.” 

The Data Science for Nature Conservation training course teaches participants how to use diverse data sources to better understand the dynamics of the terrain and how poachers are using it.

“Signs of criminal activities, combined with knowledge about their modus operandi, are used to create predictions,” he said. 

“These can be used to anticipate wildlife crimes and thus give rangers the edge. 

“By showing up at the right time at the right place with the right team, poachers are not only disrupted and caught red-handed but deterred as the chance of getting caught becomes too high.” 

Dr. Simpson said forensic intelligence is also a powerful way to link forensic evidence from one wildlife crime scene to another.

“Links, time-spatial patterns and trends are used to point criminal investigators into the right direction, thus narrowing down the window of opportunity and closing the net around poachers,” he said.

Vos added: “In South Africa and many parts of Africa, wildlife is one of our national treasures which generates enormous revenue, creates employment and helps uplift communities, and we have to do everything we can to protect and preserve our natural heritage.

“We believe the Wildlife Forensic Academy is a critical tool in this fight.”

The Wildlife Forensic Academy recreates wildlife crime scenes and aims to train students and game rangers on forensic evidence collection and analysis to help counter wildlife poaching and the illicit trade in wildlife