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Recovery of human DNA profiles from poached deer remains : a feasibility study

Tobe, Shanan S. and Govan, James and Welch, Lindsey A. (2011) Recovery of human DNA profiles from poached deer remains : a feasibility study. Science and Justice, 51 (4). pp. 190-195. ISSN 1355-0306

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Poaching is a crime that occurs worldwide and can be extremely difficult to investigate and prosecute due to the nature of the evidence available. If a species is protected by international legislation such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora then simply possessing any part of that species is illegal. Previous studies have focused on the identification of endangered species in cases of potential poaching. Difficulties arise if the poached animal is not endangered. Species such as deer have hunting seasons whereby they can legally be hunted however poaching is the illegal take of deer, irrespective of season. Therefore, identification of deer alone has little probative value as samples could have originated from legal hunting activities in season. After a deer is hunted it is usual to remove the innards, head and lower limbs. The limbs are removed through manual force and represent a potential source of human touch DNA. We investigate the potential to recover and profile human autosomal DNA from poached deer remains. Samples from the legs of ten culled deer were obtained (40 in total) using minitapes. DNA from samples was extracted, quantified and amplified to determine if it would be possible to recover human STR profiles. Low quantification data led to the use of an extended PCR cycling protocol of 34 cycles. Samples from seven deer amplified, however some samples were excluded from further analysis due to ‘drop in’ alleles or the low level of successfully amplified loci. Samples from five deer could be further analysed and gave match probabilities ranging from 6.37 × 10− 3 to 9.53 × 10− 11. This study demonstrates the potential of recovering human touch DNA from poached animal remains. There is the potential for this test to be used in relation to other species of poached remains or other types of wildlife crimes. This is the first time, to our knowledge, that human STR profiling has been successfully applied to touch DNA in regards to simulated wildlife crime.