Chemical threats to the safety and wellbeing of wildlife remain an understudied area of forensic toxicology. Wildlife can be poisoned by poachers through use of baited fruit, watering holes, or animal carcass, leaving behind a potential footprint to the crime. In 2016, the CFSRE received requests to develop a qualitative toxicological method for the analysis of pesticides and poisons commonly used in these scenarios. Over time, our laboratory and its collaborators have developed a network with conservation groups in South Africa and other African countries to investigate poisoning deaths of protected species and other wildlife.
Scientist at the CFSRE are specialized in qualitative forensic testing of biological, chemical and toxicological materials for the identification of suspected pesticide poisoning on real African wildlife cases.
The issue of wildlife poaching has been a persistent problem in many African nations for decades. Recently, poisoning has become the preferred method used by poachers and farmers. Unsuspecting wildlife is lured into consuming tainted food sources through baiting. Pesticides, many of which have been banned or outlawed, have become a favored option for poachers and farmers due to the low cost, ample supply and efficacy. A dramatic decrease in animal populations, some close to extinction has been exacerbated by the use of poisons.
Additionally, unintentional secondary poisonings are also posing a threat to humans and wildlife alike. Due to the natural African food chain, the poisoning does not stop with the animals initially targeted and poached. As different species forage, discover and feed on the remains of these poisoned animals, they too fall victim of toxic chemical ingestion. Secondary poisonings have claimed the lives of hyenas, vultures, and other scavengers who are critical in maintaining the African ecosystem. In some cases, even humans have been poisoned through the consumption of bush meat.
The CFSRE specializes in forensic testing of biological, chemical and toxicological materials. In 2016, we began receiving requests to develop a qualitative toxicological test to analyze samples from wildlife and bait that was suspected of being poisoned by poachers and others. From the initial inquiry, we have developed a network with conservation groups in South Africa and other African countries including Great Plains Conservation, Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust, WD4C and CARACAL, who are investigating poisoning deaths of protected species and other wildlife. Considering many African nations are not equipped with our laboratory’s capacity to detect poisons, our pilot project has trained and educated collaborators to safely collect, preserve, process and ship samples to us for analysis. When suspected poisoning samples arrive at our facility, a basic liquid-liquid extraction is utilized and follow-up analysis is conducted using the Waters Acquity UPLC coupled to a Waters Xevo TQD MS. Sample types have ranged from baited fruit, stomach, intestinal and crop contents, muscle, urine, liver, serum, and tissue. Positive results have revealed that carbofuran, aldicarb, and monocrotophos are the dominant pesticides used in these poisonings.
When positive test results are detected, we identify the substance used in the poisonings in order to assist wildlife advocates with wildlife conservation and rehabilitation efforts. We also share the findings with our collaborators conservation and humanitarian organizations working with communities to teach them the benefits of safely living with wildlife by substituting proven methods to address human.wildlife conflict therefore eliminating the use of poisons. Communities are being educated about the dangers of releasing poisons into the ecosystem resulting in the collapse of the wildlife bionetwork.
Currently, we at the CFSRE are continually developing and improving our forensic wildlife program, presenting findings at international chemistry and toxicology conferences, and expanding the reach of this initiative through a growing network of project collaborators and sponsors. For more information and to find out how you can get involved, please email: Wildlife.Poisoning@frfoundation.org.
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The CFSRE is working to develop training materials and resources for different organizations+ interested in the extraction and identification of this materials.