U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Forensics Laboratory

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Cross-Section of African Elephant Tail Hair. Credit: USFWS

About the Laboratory

Eagle Talons
Lab evidence — eagle talons. Credit: USFWS


Why do we need a Crime Laboratory for Animals?

In order to prosecute an individual for a violation of law, our criminal justice system requires that the individual's guilt be established 'beyond a reasonable doubt.' Two ways that prosecutors can link the suspect to the victim and to the crime (and thereby meet the 'beyond a reasonable doubt' requirement) are to present to the court....

  1. Eye Witness Testimony
  2. Physical Evidence

However, because the reliability of eye-witness testimony is often considered questionable at best (often depending upon the circumstances of the observation, as well as the reputation and perceived self-interest of the witness), prosecutors often insist that investigators obtain linking physical evidence and relevant expert witness testimony before they are willing to take a case to court.

Prior to 1988, wildlife law enforcement officers at the federal and state levels were at a distinct disadvantage in taking their cases to a prosecutor because they had little or no access to wildlife-related forensics services. By providing wildlife-related crime laboratory services (analytical techniques and corresponding expert witness testimony) to these investigators, serious violations of wildlife laws can be successfully investigated and serious violators can be successfully prosecuted.

The primary mission of the laboratory is to:

  • Identify the species or subspecies of pieces, parts or products of an animal.
  • Determine the cause-of-death of an animal.
  • Help wildlife officers determine if a violation of law has occurred.
  • Identify and compare physical evidence in an attempt to link suspect, victim and crime scene.

In order to accomplish our assigned mission, and to meet the forensic needs of wildlife law enforcement officers at the federal, state and international levels, the lab's forensic specialists will conduct crime scene investigations, examine submitted items of evidence, and provide expert witness testimony in court. They do so much like their counterparts in a police crime laboratory.

In performing this mission, we support federal law enforcement efforts of our 200+ Special Agents and Wildlife Inspectors throughout the United States, all fifty State Fish & Game Commissions, and approximately 150 foreign countries who have signed the United Nation's CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Treaty. View more about CITES on our U.S. Wildlife Laws page.

Any research that we conduct is specifically directed toward the species-source identification of wildlife parts and products. We do not expect (or intend) to receive any live animals at the laboratory, nor will we be conducting any research regarding the habitat, behavior or management of wildlife.

"Our mission is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people."


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