California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Wildlife Forensics Laboratory

About the lab

To protect wildlife from abuse by poaching, CDFW Officers must be able to determine as much as possible about the sex, species, age, and origin of bloodstains and tissue they confiscate or find. For example, in the course of an investigation, tissue samples may be collected at the site of a kill, bloodstains and hairs may be found in a vehicle, and frozen meat seized at a residence. Such samples can provide not only investigative information, but can also later be used as evidence in a court of law. A critical link in the impact of this evidence is the amount of information that can be obtained through analyses at a forensics laboratory.

The term "forensic" is most simply defined as the application of science to the purposes of the law. "Crime labs" are laboratories which, as their primary function, conduct forensic analyses on physical evidence exclusively in criminal cases and provide legally acceptable reports and expert testimony regarding their findings. The Wildlife Forensics Laboratory (WFL) is the sole molecular biology laboratory for CDFW and fulfills a crucial and ever-expanding role in protecting California’s wild resources. Maintained since the early 1950's, WFL's sole purpose and mission is to use accepted forensic science procedures to examine, analyze, report and testify at criminal trials on physical evidence seized by CDFW Officers in criminal cases. During the past sixty plus years, thousands of poachers have been convicted of crimes perpetrated on wildlife partially because of results provided by WFL on evidence submitted by CDFW Officers. Additionally, the lab is the only wildlife forensics laboratory in the United States that has successfully passed a Kelly-Frye challenge, a major hurdle for courtroom admissibility for their DNA casework results.

The primary duties of CDFW's Wildlife Forensic Laboratory include:

  • Assisting CDFW Officers in determining if a wildlife law has been broken
  • Identifying the species and subspecies of fish and wildlife evidence, including blood, tissues, hairs, and illegally marketed products
  • Utilizing the most modern forensic DNA and serological techniques in the physical examination of evidence
  • Providing objective, independent scientific analysis of evidence to identify the guilty and exonerate the innocent

Services

The majority of WFL’s DNA cases involve poaching of cervid species. The lab also has a critical role in verifying that the correct wild animal was taken following attacks on humans. In collaboration with various human crime laboratories, WFL has been able to positively identify the perpetrating mountain lion by collecting hair and saliva from the victims and victims’ clothing through the use of DNA markers. Additionally, WFL has also been able to identify bear involved in altercations with humans from bear saliva and hair left at the scene.

WFL provides a variety of services to CDFW Officers including:

  • Species identification
  • DNA matching and individualization using markers specific for:
    • Mule / blacktail deer
    • Elk
    • Mountain lion
    • Black bear
    • Abalone (coming soon)
  • Gender typing analysis

Staff

Erin Meredith, Senior Wildlife Forensic Specialist:
Starting as a Scientific Aide for the WFL in 1999, Erin worked at the lab while completing her Bachelors (2002) and Masters (2004) degrees in Genetics from UC Davis. Her Masters thesis focused on the genetics of California Elk, and the information and genetic markers generated from this research is currently used by WFL for the prosecution of elk poaching cases.

Ashley Spicer, Wildlife Forensic Specialist

Katerina Doneva, Wildlife Forensic Specialist

Lab publications

Meredith, E.P., Rodzen, J.A., Banks, J.D., and Jones, K.C. (2009) Characterization of 29 tetranucleotide microsatellite loci in black bear (Ursus americanus) for use in forensic and population applications. Conservation Genetics 10(3): 693-696

Pease, K.M., Freedman, A.H., Pollinger, J.P., McCormack, J.E., Buermann, Wolfgang, Rodzen, J., Banks, J., Meredith, E., Bleich, V.C., Schaefer, R.J., Jones, K., and Wayne, R.K. (2009) Landscape genetics of California mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus): the roles of ecological and historical factors in generating differentiation. Molecular Ecology 18(9): 1848 1862

Rodzen, Jeff A., Banks, J.D., Meredith, E.P. and Jones, K.C. (2007) Characterization of 37 microsatellite loci in mountain lions (Puma concolor) for use in forensic and population applications. Conservation Genetics 8(5): 1239-1241

Meredith, E.P., Rodzen, J. A., Banks, J. D., Schaefer, R., Ernest, H.B., Famula, T.R., and May, B.P. (2007) Microsatellite Analysis of Three Subspecies of Elk (Cervus elaphus) in California. Journal of Mammalogy 88(3): 801-808

Meredith, E.P., Ro dzen, J.A., Levine, K.F., and Banks, J.D. (2005) Characterization of an additional 14 microsatellite loci in California Elk (Cervus elaphus) for use in forensic and population applications. Conservation Genetics 6(1): 151-153

Erratum: 2008 Conservation Genetics 9(6): 1715

Aguilar, Andres, Banks, James D., Levine, Kenneth F., and Wayne, Robert K. (2005) Population genetics of northern pike (Esox lucius) introduced into Lake Davis, California. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 62(7): 1589-1599

Jones, Kenneth C., Levine, Kenneth F., and Banks, James D. (2002) Characterization of 11 polymorphic tetranucleotide microsatellites for forensic applications in California elk (Cervus elaphus canadensis). Molecular Ecology Notes 2(4): 425 427

Jones, K.C., Levine, K.F., and Banks, J.D. (2000) DNA-based genetic markers in black-tailed and mule deer for forensic applications. California Fish and Game 86(2): 115-126

Gilson, A., Syvanen, M., Levine, K., and Banks, J. (1998) Deer gender determination by polymerase chain reaction: validation study and application to tissues, bloodstains, and hair forensic samples from California. California Fish and Game 84(4): 159-169

Theis, J.H., deRopp, J.S., Schwab, R.G., Banks, J.D., and Levine, K.F. (1988) Nuclear Magnetic Resonance to Differentiate Bear, Pig, and Cow Bile for Forensic Investigations. Wildlife Society Bulletin 16(4): 430-433. Published by: Allen Press