Animal crime scene and evidence handling course
Animal crime scene and evidence handling course
Participants of the Animal Crime Scene and Evidence Handling Course braved very low temperatures and an ice-cold wind during the weekend from 16 to 19 July 2020 at the ISAP (Intelligence Support Against Poaching) facility on the farm Ovita, northwest of Okahandja, to learn how to secure a crime scene and collect vital evidence to help and support the police get poachers/criminals behind bars.
During the course, participants were reminded that they are neither police officers nor experts in collecting evidence. The main aim should be to be a partner of the police and to assist them by properly securing a crime scene and valuable evidence.
The course was sponsored by ISAP and was presented by Wildlife Vets Namibia. Participants were veterinarians, lodge managers, wildlife farmers, members of crime prevention forums, owners of hunting farms, students and people from the tourism industry.
The icy wind prevented the group from having the theoretical sessions on the ISAP Camp’s deck, that overlooks the landscape and the camp with the boma, ablution block and tents next to a dry river bed.
The owners of Ovita farm and rest camp came to the rescue by offering their dining room next to their bungalows and camping spot a few kilometres from the ISAP camp.
Most of the lectures were handled by well-known veterinarian and owner of a game capture unit, Dr Ulf Tubbesing and his assistant Mariska Bijsterbosch. Professional photographer Dirk Heinrich handled part of the theory and the practical sessions of crime scene photography. Members of the K9 unit demonstrated how their dogs can be used to track down poachers and other criminals while a representative of Bushwackers explained the use of metal detectors, and had course participants experience that to be able to find metal parts at a crime scene needs practice.
Dr Tubbesing gave some background on poaching and pointed out that not only the poaching of rhino and elephant is a serious crime but also the poaching of pangolins, birds and antelope. Every poaching scene is a crime scene since it involves animals that were killed illegally. Moreover, the poachers trespassed either on state or private property, often used illegal ways of killing animals, and frequently handled non-licensed weapons and ammunition, stolen rifles and bullets or weapons without the owner’s permission.
When poaching antelope like oryx or kudu, poachers sometimes use dogs to corner the animals and then kill them with spears, which is against the law. Poaching warthog and transporting the meat from one district to another is a serious offence in terms of veterinary laws.
Farmers and owners of game and domestic stock should use all possible means to increase the charges against such criminals to make sure they receive the maximum punishment.
To achieve this it is important to find, secure and gather as much evidence as possible. “It is important to understand that crime investigation is very complex and not what you see in movies”, Dr Tubbesing pointed out. As security measures become more effective, the skills and experience of criminals improve. Crime is often fueled by opportunity and to get the culprits behind bars, it is important to secure the evidence and to have enough evidence backup safely in case evidence gets lost or a corrupt or incompetent official handles the case.
To fight crime and to solve cases, the use of DNA samples of victims and culprits is becoming increasingly important. Dr Tubbesing explained what DNA is, how to preserve this crucial part of evidence, how and where DNA can be found and how it should be collected and preserved. To have a database with DNA of criminals is as important as having a database of rhinos and other vulnerable animals in different countries to be able to trace criminals internationally or to link evidence to a specific country and area.
A staged poaching case gave the course participants the opportunity to practice what they had learned during the previous days. The importance of using drones to investigate a poaching scene from a bird’s eye view before moving in became clear. Taking photos with the drone proved to be very valuable for giving an overall and detailed impression of the crime scene from directly above. Using a helicopter to obtain the same type of pictures would be very expensive and not as effective because to take detailed photos would necessitate flying at low altitude, which would most probably destroy important evidence like tracks or blow evidence around. A drone could also be used to scan the immediate area around the scene for possible poachers or more evidence or clues.
Tubbesing and Bijsterbosch emphasized how important it is to record every single step taken during an investigation, including collecting and handing over evidence. This is necessary to help the police to be able to present a complete case to court. It is crucial to realize how each case needs to be properly investigated and presented to a judge, without room for questions or doubts, and how difficult and sometimes time-consuming such an investigation can be.
The participants of the Animal Crime Scene and Evidence Handling Course recognized that securing and collecting evidence is not an easy job. At the same time they realized how easily vital evidence can be destroyed by unprofessional behavior. Participants also learned how important good photography is to record all visible evidence, as well as the steps to be undertaken to collect the evidence and to create a picture of the whole scenario.
Photographs and videos play an important role in an investigation and therefore the best possible images should be taken and presented to show overall and detailed information as truly and realistically as possible. To be able to do this it is important that investigators should know their camera equipment and the basics of photography, and rather to take too many photographs than too few.
All participants said the course was an eye-opener to understand the complexity of an investigation and the work the police is doing. They also realized how important it is to be a partner of the police to achieve the same goal, namely to get criminals behind bars.
The course was only made possible through the generous support and donation by a Swiss donor and local supporters and the donors who made it possible to build the ISAP camp. For ISAP to support anti-poaching efforts by various organisations a number of local donors have been very generous.
It is planned to have more courses in future for interested individuals or for farmer associations, conservancies or NGO´s.