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CSI for wildlife -

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KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: The illegal wildlife trade is a multi-billion dollar global industry and
rare Australian species are in high demand both domestically and overseas.

But wildlife authorities in Western Australia are putting unscrupulous collectors on notice that
they're using a new weapon in the fight against poaching - applying the same DNA profiling
techniques used in human forensics.

Danielle Parry reports from the west.

(Chick squawks from a hollowed out nest)

DANIELLE PARRY, REPORTER: This endangered Carnaby's Cockatoo chick is about to get its first
glimpse of the world outside its nest.

It's just a few weeks old but wildlife officers are anxious to get a closer look at its DNA in the
hope it could help the species from extinction.

Carnaby's cockatoos are only found in South Western WA and the birds are under serious threat from
loss of habitat and poaching.

RICK DAWSON, WA DEPT ENVIRONMENT & CONSERVATION: There's about 40,000 Carnabys. But if you go back
to the 50s there was 150,000, so... You don't have to be Einstein to do the math that's a little
bit of a worry.

DANIELLE PARRY: Fetching up to 30,000 dollars a pair, Carnaby's are a prized commodity in one of
the world's biggest black markets.

LINZI WILSON-WILDE, INSTITUTE OF FORENSIC SCIENCE: From what we know, the scale of wildlife crime
seems to be quite large- in the order of $10-20 billion US. It's thought to be third behind human
trafficking and drugs.

DANIELLE PARRY: Australian birds and reptiles are a favourite target of this global trade that
stretches from backyard collectors through to high end criminal syndicates.

Catching those responsible is no easy task and wildlife authorities are increasingly turning to
science to help them keep up.

LINZI WILSON-WILDE: The offenders of these sorts of crimes are well organised, they're intelligent,
they utilise technology, they utilise the Internet, they use Skype - all sorts of things like that.

Law enforcement certainly needs to be very up to date and use cutting edge techniques.

DANIELLE PARRY: Wildlife officer Rick Dawson and PhD Student Nicole White are leading a West
Australian team that's adapting human DNA profiling techniques to the cockatoo world.

NICOLE WHITE, PHD STUDENT: We go out into the nesting areas every year, pull the chicks out,
profile them, put them in the database and then when we do have an unknown or a suspect individual
we can run that through the database.

DANIELLE PARRY: So it's kind of like Wildlife CSI.

NICOLE WHITE: It is kind of like Wildlife CSI.

(CSI Theme song places over montage of Nicole using pipettes and test tubes)

DANIELLE PARRY: Prosecuting nest robbers is a tricky business. The wildlife detectives have spent
four years building up the genetic markers for Carnaby's cockatoos.

They're now able to prove whether an aviary bird was bred legally from captive parents or taken
from the wild.

NICOLE WHITE: I can run what is basically paternity testing. It's the same as they do in the human
forensics. So now we have the markers up and running that can allow us to do that.

DANIELLE PARRY: Based on their extensive DNA database from Cockatoo nesting sites, the team can
even pinpoint where a bird was likely to have been poached from.

RICK DAWSON: If you nest rob a white tailed black cockatoo chick now you need to be a little bit
careful because we've got a very, very big database of Carnabys and I can guarantee you we'll be
able to tell you whether you bred or whether you took it from the wild.

(Excerpt from WA Dept Environment and Conservation video of a raid)

RICK DAWSON: Yeah, mate, we've confirmed that they're home.

DANIELLE PARRY: West Australian Authorities are now so confident in the technique that they're now
branching out into other prized native species.

OFFICER (holding snake): Alright so we'll just take the opportunity to bag this.

DANIELLE PARRY: There's a growing illegal market for Australian snakes and lizards and DNA is
proving a vital tool for proving a reptile's provenance.

RICK DAWSON: If you take them from the wild and you don't have the appropriate license then you're
committing an offence.

A carpet python's the same as a Carnaby's black cockatoo. They're both endangered and it's a ten
thousand dollar fine.

DANIELLE PARRY: Where wildlife officers would once have needed to take a scale clipping from each
seized reptile to get its DNA, the team has pioneered a simpler mouth-swabbing technique that
doesn't scar the animal.

RICK DAWSON: It's non-invasive - two or three minutes, we're out the door and we'll be able to tell
you one way or the other whether you really bred it.

DANIELLE PARRY: So far the team has secured 15 DNA results proving birds and snakes were stolen
from the wild or illegally imported.

But the evidence is yet to be contested in court in WA because so far in every case, the accused
has pleaded guilty.

JUDITH FORDHAM, BARRISTER AND FORENSIC SCIENCE, UWA Law: There've been many cases which have gone
to court involving wildlife DNA but as far as I'm aware there haven't been any which have actually
gone to appeal or someone's defended themselves.

They've said 'You've got the DNA, you've got the proof - I've done it'.

DANIELLE PARRY: Animal cruelty cases could be a new frontier for this niche science.

RICK DAWSON (examining a Quokka): See he has got two broken teeth.

DANIELLE PARRY: The team was recently called-in to help police investigate a case where a man is
accused of kicking a Quokka on Rottnest Island off the coast of Perth.

They took DNA samples from the injured animal to build-up their quokka database.

POLICE OFFICER: One pair Nike sandshoes.


DANIELLE PARRY: They were then asked to DNA test a spot of blood found on the accused man's shoe.

NICOLE WHITE: What we're trying to do with the police is determine whether the blood material on
the sandshoes is Quokka, so it's basically a species identification of the material that's on the

DANIELLE PARRY: West Australian Authorities are urging their counterparts across the nation to
embrace wildlife forensics.

They say DNA is tipping the scales in their favour as they battle increasingly sophisticated
illegal operators.

NICOLE WHITE: I think people actually see Australia as as easy shopping for the illegal trade
industry and I want the message to go out that we now have the DNA tools available to assist in

RICK DAWSON: I think people are a bit scared about DNA and you know what? So they should be because
its very powerful.

Maybe the edge was with the nest robber or the illegal taker, now I'd suggest to you the edge is
with us.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Danielle Parry reporting from the West.