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Fingerprints on Feathers: Forensics Fight Wildlife Crime

Jan 14, 2015 03:00 PM EST
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Researchers recently made a forensic breakthrough - one that could potentially change the game in the fight against avian wildlife crime.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Science and Justice, which details how forensic scientists might now be able to take accurate and detailed fingerprints from rare bird feathers.

That could be incriminating evidence for the poachers of rare birds, who often handle their quarry after shooting, trapping, and poisoning them for sport or their stunning plumage.

According to the study, investigators from the University of Abertay in Dundee, Scotland determined that complete and incriminating fingerprints can often be lifted from these delicate feathers using florescent powders.

"There are some surfaces where recovering fingerprints remains elusive - human and animal skin, for example. And, until now, feathers were on that list," lead researcher Dennis Gentles said in a statement.

"We use fluorescent powder because fluorescent powder will glow if it's put under a laser light, and because it glows it separates itself completely from the background," he explained to BBC News. "That makes it nice and clear to record and hopefully identify as someone's particular fingerprint." (Scroll to read on...)

The expert added that he and his team found flight feathers - specialized pennaceous feathers - were the best at preserving prints, because they boast a tight weave in order to better catch updrafts in flight. This is why some feathers will contour to your finger like a single piece, even while other non-flight feathers will be far more wispy and soft.

The researchers also determined that they could recover fingerprints from most egg surfaces using black magnetic power - a boon for stopping illegal animal trade, collection, and breeding.

"While government laboratory testing has made it relatively straightforward to identify the cause of death of the victims in many cases, identifying the perpetrator of offences that often take place in some of the remotest areas of our countryside continues to be very difficult," Ian Thomson of the Royal Society for Bird Protection added in a comment.

This is a "big step forward," he said, in the fight against avian wildlife crime.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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