Back in 2015, a hunting dog in Germany was accidentally killed. It suffered from sever bullet wounds during a wild boar drive hunt. The hunters found the dog 650 meters away from the nearest posted hunter. Since the dog’s owner had a legal right to be financially compensated for his loss (which can reach several thousand euros), no hunter voluntarily admitted to be responsible for killing the dog. However, during an emergency operation on the dog, the veterinarian found wild boar hairs in the dog’s wound. This suggested that the bullet first hit a wild boar and then the dog.
This revelation made it possible to further investigate the case. Was it suddenly possible to solve the (accidental) crime? An innovative research study described how innovative techniques were used to find the answer. They used so-called ‘genetic profiling’.
Using genetic profiling to find the culprit
Researchers collected the wild boar hairs found in the dog’s wound together with muscle samples from the 19 boars harvested that day. Since the hunters kept records who harvested each of the 19 bagged animals, they performed individual-specific genetic profiling to link these hairs to a specific wild boar, and thereby, identify the responsible for shooting the dog.
To do so, they extracted DNA from the tissue samples and genotyped the 19 harvested boar. They did the same for the unknown hair sample found in the dog. All samples were genotype using 13 short tandem repeat (STRs) markers. Following this procedure researchers successfully matched the hair DNA sample with one of the 19 wild boar tissue samples. They were able to distinguish between different individuals with 99.97% certainty. Therefore, the results were reliable and allowed to identify the hunter that was responsible for killing both animals.
The potential of genetic profiling to persecute wildlife crimes
Similarly to human cases, individual-specific genetic profiling in wildlife forensic science can provide a powerful tool to solve wildlife crimes. For example, a study used DNA profiling to link blood stains on a suspect’s knife to an illegally harvested wild boar. Further, genetic markers can be very useful to identify illegally trapped animal products in cases where identification by morphological features is no longer possible.
However, although conservation studies commonly use molecular genetic technologies, their use in wildlife forensic cases is still not widespread. In the future, we hope to see more studies applying genetic profiling to help secure convictions for wildlife crime.