To combat poaching, Florida officials use wildlife forensics

State game officials are bagging poachers who might once have escaped their reach, thanks to DNA analysis performed at a University of Florida laboratory.

More commonly used to catch murderers and rapists, the lab's forensic DNA techniques have proved so successful in nabbing deer poachers that officials have recently turned to it for help in cases involving wild turkeys, turtles, alligators and other hunted species in Florida. Since undertaking the work about three years ago, the lab has helped crack about 30 poaching cases statewide, a number they say will grow steadily as the lab branches out into more and more species and types of cases.

"I wish I had it 20 years ago," said Capt. Barry Cook of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission office in Gainesville. "The jails would be a lot fuller."

DNA analysis to find poachers is just one role of the Biotechnologies for Ecological, Evolutionary and Conservation Sciences Genetics Analysis Laboratory, part of UF's Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research. The lab's main function is to provide genetics expertise to biologists in the field.

But the lab became involved in poaching cases after game officials enlisted it in 1998 to determine if meat came from Florida's native white-tailed deer or another species.

Ginger Clark, a UF senior biological scientist at the lab, developed a technique that could not only determine the species of deer based on tissue samples or blood, but also the deer's gender. The technique can identify any hoofed species, from cows to horses to antelopes, from most countries in the world. The work quickly became useful in poaching cases.

Unlike the lengthy buck season, doe season on Florida's public lands lasts only two days. In several instances, game officers have sent the lab samples of fresh venison confiscated from hunters on suspicion it came from does killed out of season. Officers also have given the lab clothing stained with blood they su

Contact: Aaron Hoover
University of Florida

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