Wildlife Crime

Wildlife crime manifests itself in many ways from the illegal international trade in wildlife to the deliberate persecution of animals.  Investigating wildlife crime often requires an unusual set of forensic tools, and here at SASA we have expertise relating to chemical analysis of suspected animal poisoning, and also wildlife DNA forensics.


The illegal poisoning of animals is a particular crime that has persisted in Scotland for decades.   It is no surprise that pesticides have emerged as the poisons of choice.  Many pest control products (pesticides or biocides) are designed to kill or control invertebrate (insect) or vertebrate (rodent) pests.  However, if these chemicals are used incorrectly they can be extremely toxic to animals and humans.

SASA specialises in the detection, identification and quantitation of a wide range of chemicals involved in illegal poisoning.  A variety of specimens such as suspected victims and baits, suspicious substances and poisoning paraphernalia are submitted for chemical residue analysis.  Analytical results obtained are used as evidence in criminal proceedings or for enforcement of Scottish Government policies.  SASA chemists can also be cited to appear as expert witnesses.

Wildlife Management staff undertake Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) field investigations involving the suspected illegal use of fumigation products, and provide advice to statutory authorities, such as the Police, on the legalities of traps and snares.

Wildlife DNA forensics

At SASA, we carry out wildlife DNA forensic analysis for the police and other organisations involved in wildlife crime investigation. Investigators can find a wide range of evidence that can be subjected to forensic DNA analysis: from trace samples such as blood, fur or feathers, to powdered medicines or ornamental carvings.

At its broadest level, this evidence can be used to identify the species present. From trace evidence or processed products it is often not possible to identify the species present without using DNA based species identification.

Following species identification, it can be necessary to carry out more detailed DNA profiling to tie a suspect to a specific crime. For example paternity testing of captive birds of prey can determine whether the breeding records are correct, or whether birds may have been illegally collected from the wild. It is also possible to use DNA profiling to match a trace sample, such as blood on a suspect’s clothing, to a specific animal carcass – tying the suspect to a specific crime.

In addition to analysing evidence in ongoing wildlife crime investigations, we also carry out research to improve the variety of DNA tests available for the forensic analysis of non-human samples.

Rhinoceros DNA Database Project

SASA is setting up a DNA database to provide a unique identifier for individual rhinoceros horn in UK museums and also zoo animals. This is in response to an increase in rhino horn theft from museums in recent years and an initiative by UK enforcement to crack down on this illegal activity perpetrated by criminal gangs. Unique DNA profiles will be generated from small samples of horn, which will help trace the origin of any stolen rhino horn intercepted by the police or customs.

Museums interested in getting involved with this project should email wildlifeforensics@sasa.gov.scot for more information.

Wildlife Crime Awareness

We work in conjunction with Police Scotland and fully support their wildlife crime awareness campaign. For more information on this campaign please see the Police Scotland website.