Alberta DNA lab could help catch illegal N.W.T. hunters

A forensic wildlife lab in Alerbta, which matches DNA from an abandoned animal carcass to things like meat found in a suspect's freezer, is offering its services to wildlife officers in the Northwest Territories.

Forensic wildlife lab uses DNA-matching technology 'as good as' RCMP crime investigations

Alberta DNA lab could help catch illegal N.W.T. hunters 0:58

Wildlife officers in the Northwest Territories may be able to use DNA evidence to help catch illegal hunters, thanks to a forensic wildlife lab in Alberta. 

The lab matches DNA from an abandoned animal carcass to things like meat found in a suspect's freezer, animal hair in a suspect's vehicle, or blood on his or her boots.

"That would be probably the best kind of evidence you could have," said Jamie Chambers, with the department of environment and natural resources.

"I mean, it's one thing to go to site to gather photos and have sketch maps and whatnot, and it's another thing to have statements.

"But to have something that actually matches from the kill site to a meat sample that somebody has in their freezer — that's pretty conclusive evidence." 

Testing thousand-year-old evidence

Chambers says sometimes it can take staff hours to find the kill site they need to investigate.

The Alberta wildlife forensic lab matches the DNA from abandoned animal carcasses to things like meat in a suspect's freezer.
"Ninety per cent of the locations you have to get to are with a snowmobile or aircraft," Chambers said.

"It's hard to preserve evidence if you find too much time has passed since the infraction occurred." 

That wouldn't be a problem for scientists at the Alberta lab; they test evidence that is sometimes thousands of years old. 

"We have the expertise to do DNA matching as good as DNA matching the RCMP does for criminal code investigations," said Tom Packer, a scientist at the Alberta lab. 

Chambers says the department has used the lab's services in the past and is open to using them again, especially for a job like catching illegal hunters. 

Chambers says the department usually relies on eyewitness statements from hunters and trappers out on the land. 

"We'd look for more opportunities to utilize forensic labs if we could," Chambers said. 


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