What is a Wildlife Forensics Specialist?

What is Wildlife Forensics?

Wildlife forensics is the application of science to legal cases involving wildlife. This field uses scientific procedures to investigate wildlife-related crimes involving the exotic pet trade, poaching, other illegal hunting activities, and even oil spills.

What is a Wildlife Forensics Specialist?

A wildlife forensics specialist is a scientist who uses chemical techniques to investigate wildlife crimes. These scientists analyze animals, animal parts and products, and other evidence collected by wildlife inspectors and other officials.

What Does a Wildlife Forensics Specialist Do?

Wildlife forensic specialists may collect evidence from wildlife inspectors and fish and game wardens, and work with them to investigate and prosecute crimes. They identify the species to which an animal, part, or product belongs, and may be required to determine a cause of death. They examine physical evidence from items, suspects, and crime scenes to identify links. They may be called upon to testify as expert witnesses in court.

Where Does a Wildlife Forensics Specialist Work?

Most wildlife forensic specialists work for federal and state wildlife agencies. They spend most of their time in laboratories. Forensic scientists may wear safety equipment such as goggles to prevent injury, or gloves to avoid contaminating samples. They may occasionally need to collect samples or examine a crime scene in the field. They usually keep standard working hours.

What is the Average Wildlife Forensics Specialist Salary?

Forensic science technicians earned an average of $52,840 in 2012.

StateTotal EmploymentBottom 25%Median SalaryTop 75%
Alabama70$33,390$41,070$47,010
Arizona870$42,100$52,390$66,980
Arkansas140$31,090$38,320$42,660
California1,990$57,000$73,490$90,470
Colorado280$49,790$58,380$69,860
Connecticut100$53,110$68,140$83,240
District of Columbia290$56,700$69,670$83,960
Florida1,470$35,220$42,710$55,870
Georgia470$24,520$26,990$36,660
Hawaii70$43,470$49,470$61,160
Idaho90$36,400$46,420$57,210
Illinois490$59,960$81,830$97,930
Indiana270$45,100$58,280$64,760
Iowa100$51,130$58,990$79,310
Kentucky50$35,370$40,700$45,660
Louisiana140$35,690$43,190$56,810
Maine40$35,870$42,630$53,700
Maryland660$49,200$62,260$75,860
Massachusetts40$63,370$70,350$78,910
Michigan180$47,670$60,620$68,290
Minnesota90$45,170$52,550$58,220
Mississippi100$44,220$52,190$65,150
Missouri270$35,750$45,910$56,770
Montana30$46,250$57,240$65,890
Nebraska100$40,680$47,410$57,580
Nevada190$51,170$60,530$81,640
New Jersey100$48,500$54,260$64,120
New Mexico80$43,790$54,020$64,160
New York600$50,270$61,690$73,070
North Carolina330$35,010$41,550$50,700
Ohio340$44,350$52,100$68,280
Oklahoma200$49,690$64,920$71,060
Oregon200$50,180$59,000$70,150
South Carolina80$33,100$40,310$51,150
Tennessee250$35,130$43,850$54,590
Texas990$35,200$43,370$56,130
Utah180$39,970$47,290$57,130
Virginia390$46,960$68,410$81,550
Washington280$40,920$56,750$69,330
West Virginia150$30,940$40,320$53,120
Wisconsin140$41,040$57,100$68,560
Wyoming40$43,070$64,950$73,650

Table data taken from BLS (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes194092.htm)

What is the Job Demand for Wildlife Forensics Specialists?

Employment of forensic science technicians is projected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations. Job growth will depend on the area of specialty. Since wildlife forensic science is a relatively new and very small field, the number of new jobs will be limited. Opportunities will depend largely on government funding.

How Do I Get a Wildlife Forensics Specialist Degree?

Forensic scientists need at least a bachelor's degree in chemistry, biology, physics, or a related natural science from a program accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission. A solid background in math and statistics is also important.
Many forensic scientists also have master's and doctoral degrees in forensic science. Earning an advanced degree is an excellent career investment that can lead to promotions and additional employment opportunities.

On-the-job training may be required for those who investigate crime scenes and work in labs. Forensic scientists may need to pass an exam before they can work on cases independently or testify in court. They must also participate in professional development to keep up with scientific and technological advances in the field.

Certification

Various optional licenses and certifications are available to enhance the credentials of forensic scientists. They may vary by jurisdiction.

Certification as a Wildlife Forensic Scientist is available from the Society for Wildlife Forensic Science. Optional certification demonstrates expertise to courts and potential employers. Certification requires possession of a bachelor's degree, one year of casework experience, submitting a letter of recommendation, and passing an annual exam.

Voluntary certification in criminalistics (the branch of forensic science dealing with crimes) is also available from the American Board of Criminalistics. Practitioners can demonstrate their proficiency by passing multiple choice examinations in various professional procedures, including:

  • Drug analysis
  • Crime scene reconstruction
  • Firearms and toolmarks
  • Molecular biology and DNA
  • Fire debris and explosives
  • Photography
  • Trace evidence
  • Safety

Wildlife Forensics Related Degrees

What Kind of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Wildlife Forensics Specialists Have?

  • The Society for Wildlife Forensic Science (SWFS) is a fairly new organization that aims to advance and standardize wildlife forensic practices and procedures. Formed in 2009, SWFS offers professional certification and proficiency testing. It's an excellent source for industry news, events, and job openings.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is a bureau within the Federal Government's Department of the Interior. FWS ensures that all wildlife laws and restoration projects are being properly enforced and executed. It's not only a great resource for current wildlife laws, but also a source of federal employment. FWS even has its own Forensics Laboratory.
  • The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) is the foremost professional association for forensic scientists of all stripes in the United States. AAFS organizes meetings and hosts a range of resources including a reference library, videos, and webinars.
  • The American Board of Criminalistics (ABC) is an umbrella organization for national and regional forensic science societies. ABC administers optional certification examinations, proficiency testing, and study guides for practitioners.