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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

CSI For Animals: How An Oregon Lab Practices Forensics

photo
A forensic scientist examines the hand bones of a bear. (National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory)Seized wildlife products. (National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory)Tabitha C. Viner, supervisory veterninary pathologist, examines an oiled bird. (National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory)The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Forensics Laboratory uses forensic science to analyze evidence and solve wildlife crimes, such as the case of this poisoned eagle. (National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory)Margaret E. Smith, a forensic scientist and morphologist performs a skull comparison. (National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory)Senior forensic scientist Pepper Trail compares Amazonian feather artifact with reference specimen of Scarlet Macaw. (National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory)

A nondescript 40,000-square-foot building in Ashland, Oregon, houses one of the world’s most unusual enterprises: the world’s only forensic crime lab — for animals.

A non-descript 40,000 square foot building in Ashland, Oregon houses one of the world's most unusual enterprises: the world's only forensic crime lab for animals. (fws.gov)

A non-descript 40,000 square foot building in Ashland, Oregon houses one of the world’s most unusual enterprises: the world’s only forensic crime lab for animals. (fws.gov)

If you’re wondering why animals need a forensics lab, consider this: the world trade in illegal wildlife is a $19 billion business — the fourth largest illegal industry worldwide — right behind narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking.

Add to that crimes like hunting endangered animals (for meat or wall trophies or protection of personal property) and the Oregon lab becomes an extremely busy enterprise. It’s also the only forensics lab used by the 154 countries that have signed on to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), meaning that shipments of animals arrive in Ashland from around the globe.

Ken Goddard, director of the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory, toldĀ Here & Now’s Robin Young that he never knows what they’re going to receive in the mail every day.

“We got surprised by seven decomposed skunks one day. We heard about it early because the FedEx pilot had to go into oxygen bringing the box in. We get things decomposed — 18-foot boa constructor melting in the Everglades, eagles, wolves, cougars — for cause of death. Pieces, parts, products of animals,” Goddard said.

Guest

  • Ken Goddard, director of the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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