Animal Investigators

Animal Investigators

How the World's First Wildlife Forensics Lab Is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species

Foreword by: Richard Leakey
Inside the Clark R. Bavin U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory lies a rarely seen world, a CSI for wildlife, where a walk-in freezer contains carcasses and animal parts awaiting necropsies (animal autopsies); shelves and drawers hold pills, rugs, carvings, and countless other products made from parts of endangered animals; and a dedicated group of forensic scientists is responsible for victims from thirty thousand animal species.

Accomplished environmental journalist Laurel A. Neme goes behind the scenes at the wildlife forensics lab -- the only crime lab of its kind -- to reveal how its forensic scientists and the agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working to investigate wildlife crimes, protect endangered species, and stem illegal wildlife trafficking, the third largest illegal trade in the world.

In three fascinating cases -- headless walrus washed up on the shores of Alaska, black bears killed for the healing powers of their gallbladders, and gorgeous feathered headdresses secretly shipped to the United States from the Amazon -- Neme traces the USFWS's daring undercover investigations and how the scientists' innovative forensic techniques provide conclusive evidence of a crime. Throughout, she underscores the staggering international scope of the supply and demand for wildlife and animal parts.

Filled with the suspense and thrilling detail of a crime novel yet driven by the all-too-real drama of a small band of scientists and investigators battling a lucrative, high-stakes underground industry, Animal Investigators is an engrossing account of crime and cutting-edge science.
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  • Scribner | 
  • 256 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416594611 | 
  • April 2009
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About the Author

Author Revealed

Laurel A. Neme
Q. how did you come to write Animal Investigators?


Musa Mohammed Lyimo, a dark, stocky, energetic man who’d served as Tanzania’s chief wildlife officer, told me how, eight years earlier in 1992, he suspected poachers had killed dozens of dead elephants that his wardens had found sprawled near remote watering holes. But he couldn’t prove it until scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Lab, the world’s only forensic lab dedicated to wildlife, uncovered the cause of death: poison.

Intrigued by an article I’d read on the incident, and knowing I’d be in East Africa for work (consulting for USAID), I’d tracked Lyimo down in Nairobi at the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, a regional organization to combat wildlife poaching in southern and east Africa, to learn more. Sitting in his spare government office, Lyimo told me how his subsequent investigation revealed the elephants had been killed by a lethal combination of readily available agricultural pesticides and herbicides that poachers had injected into pumpkins and scattered around the drinking places as bait. It was better than their previous method of dumping the poison into the watering holes, he told me with a gleam in his eye. That killed everything – including some poachers.

Lyimo handed me two heavy tusks. One had rough cuts, where it had been hacked out of an elephant’s skull, while the other was smooth and neat. Poison, the African explained, lets the ivory slip out easily a few days after the animal dies.

As we spoke, his phone rang and I listened to the one-sided conversation. When he hung up, he told me the call was a report of dead hippos, poisoned for their ivory teeth in a manner very similar to the elephants. I knew it was impossible to patrol such a remote and vast area, and that wildlife forensics could transcend time and space to link the poachers and ivory traffickers to their crime. Seeing this seemingly never-ending round of poaching for profit, I wanted to help break that cycle. I could do that by telling their stories. Animal Investigators is the result.

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