RANGERS GAIN NEW SKILLS IN CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION
It was back to school this May for a group of rangers on the frontlines of the battle against wildlife poaching. Wild Tomorrow Fund facilitated a training program giving rangers new skills in crime scene evidence collection, which will help secure convictions for wildlife poachers.
Today, as the illegal poaching of elephant, rhinos and lions intensifies in Southern Africa, a ranger's job now sadly includes being the first responder on a wildlife crime scene. It is very important that evidence is correctly marked and recorded, and not inadvertently made inadmissible as evidence. Due to this new reality, state wildlife reserve managers in KwaZulu-Natal South Africa reached out to Wild Tomorrow Fund to discuss organizing a wildlife crime scene training program for rangers.
From the 1st to the 5th of May, ten selected rangers and anti-poaching members from the frontline reserves of Ndumo Game Reserve and Tembe Elephant Park (both in South Africa and bordering Mozambique) completed the crime scene management training together with senior anti-poaching members from Limpopo National Park, and Maputo Special reserve (Mozambique National Reserves). These four reserves together cover almost 3 million acres of protected wildlife area.
The program was taught by one of the world's top wildlife forensic experts, Mr Jacobus Steyl. Mr Steyl has over twenty-nine year's experience in the forensic ballistic investigation of crime scenes and is often asked to give expert opinion on wildlife crime scene evidence at court. To date, he has investigated more than 8,300 crimes involving firearms.
The course covered various key areas such as crime scene management, the legal process, forensic and ballistic principals, ballistics, DNA, and fingerprint examination. Processing of crime scenes in the bush included learning:
- How to correctly secure a crime scene
- The roles of first responders
- How to conduct crime scene photography
- The art of metal detecting
- How to mark exhibits and record them correctly
- How to tag and bag all exhibits
- How to correctly follow the chain of custody
- How to cast footwear impressions from the scene as evidence
- How to correctly take notes on the scene
These new skills will stay with each ranger for the remainder of their professional careers in the field and will also be passed on to colleagues, enabling more effective crime scene management in the bush.
The wildlife crime scene training program also served as a morale boost for the rangers and conservationists on the ground in Southern Africa as they were able to take time out from the field to improve their skills. It was also an opportunity for rangers who work across the transnational boundary between South Africa and Mozambique to meet and spend time with each other, learning together, sharing experiences and forging relationships across borders.
This project was funded via a portion of the donation from the New York Attorney General's Office resulting from an ivory investigation by the New York Department of Environment and Conservation.
Thank you to the Peace Parks Foundation for arranging transport for Mozambican attendees and the participation of the Limpopo National Park members.
And lastly – to those on the frontlines, the tide will turn! Strong evidence can lead to strong sentencing of rhino poachers, taking the focus from arrests to convictions.