Police Scotland’s specialist wildlife crime unit is also using forensic techniques pioneered in murder investigations to tackle a rise in hare coursing.
Scientific techniques such as matching the DNA of animals and the use of forensic suits and masks to preserve crimes scenes are now being used to investigate crimes against wildlife.
Officers have encountered an increase in hare coursing, deer poaching and badger baiting.
But now they have the support of forensic science and officers with experience of violent crimes against people to bring perpetrators to justice.
More than 100 Police Scotland officers across six divisions are dedicated to wildlife crime, which comes under the force’s major crime banner.
The unit is led by detective chief superintendent Gary Cunningham, Scotland’s wildlife crime coordinator. One of his officers, detective sergeant Robert More, spent seven years as a major crime and homicide officer in Fife. DS More said: “My background is major crime and homicide teams. I’m looking to bring in the same type of forensic investigation to wildlife crime. We’re also trialling a project where we’re using professional scene examiners, the same ones who would gather evidence from crimes on humans.”
Hare coursing is most commonly found in the north and east of Scotland, where there is more farmland and the terrain is less challenging, and police are running Operation Lepus to target it.
The carcasses of animals killed by those who persecute wildlife are sent for scientific analysis at the UK wildlife DNA forensics laboratory in Edinburgh.
DNA samples taken from the bite wounds can then be matched against the dogs of any suspects or to bloodstains found away from the crime scene, such as in a vehicle.
Tests can also be carried out to establish which substance killed an animal which is believed to have been poisoned.
PC Charlie Everitt, of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, said: “There are a number of challenges in investigating wildlife crime. Some of these crimes that are reported, there will be no witnesses, no CCTV, no house-to-house inquiries. These days we rely more on forensics to build cases, as the remote nature of where offences happen mean we’re never going to get eyewitnesses. Catching people in the act is difficult as hare coursers only spend 10 or 15 minutes at one site, so police receive a call, dispatch a vehicle and the perpetrators have moved on. That’s where forensics come in. If you go to where a hare courser has been and find a dead hare, you can extract dog DNA from the wounds.”
Source: The Sunday Post
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