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Our Marine Wildlife Management Programme learned more about wildlife forensics!

By Martine Viljoen and Laura du Toit
- Marine Wildlife, Research, Conservation, Foundation, Blog
Our Marine Wildlife Management Programme learned more about wildlife forensics!

The Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation’s Marine Wildlife Management Programme is always looking for opportunities to grow and learn, especially when it comes to collaborating with like-minded organisations! Recently, one of our team members participated in a training course with the Wildlife Forensic Academy (WFA).

What is the Wildlife Forensic Academy?

Wildlife forensics uses forensic science to combat wildlife crime. For example, if a rhino is poached in a game reserve, wildlife forensic science is used to capture crucial evidence that can hold up in a court of law.

The WFA’s training centre is a unique experience and a beacon of innovation. It is the first forensic training site in the world that is entirely focused on fighting wildlife crime through immersive, experiential learning on-site. It was established in response to the pressing need for effective combat of wildlife crimes, harnessing the power of forensic science to give a voice to the wildlife that can’t speak for themselves.

At their cutting-edge “experience lab” in Buffelsfontein Private Nature Reserve, the WFA conducts a range of wildlife forensic courses for African and international students. Martine Viljoen, our Foundation’s Marine Wildlife Management Programme (MWMP) Assistant, joined one of the two-week courses for two days to further her knowledge of wildlife forensics in aid of her work in our MWMP.

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What did Martine learn with the WFA?

Over two days, Martine was fully immersed in hands-on forensic training with the WFA.

“This experience provided me with a captivating opportunity to acquire invaluable skills and insights, ranging from managing biodiversity crime scenes to presenting evidence in a court of law,” says Martine. The WFA takes practical learning seriously – coursework covers crime scene management, forensic trace collection, documentation of evidence, and the nuances of presenting in a courtroom.

The WFA “experience lab” is meticulously designed to mimic the reality of being out in the field or on the scene of a wildlife crime, housing life-size models of a dehorned rhino, a snared giraffe, a lion with various stab wounds, and more. These models are incredibly useful for WFA students, who engage in practical exercises simulating various wildlife crime scenes, from poisoning to poaching.

The practical learning also includes vehicle searches, collaborative group crime scene work, and courtroom conduct. Students get a chance to re-enact wildlife crime cases in a courtroom, where they learn how to convincingly present their evidence!

“The course provides attendees with a comprehensive knowledge of wildlife forensics, with the ultimate aim of growing prosecution rates for wildlife crimes,” says Martine.

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WFA hosted a research day!

In March, WFA hosted a wildlife forensic research planning day. Martine returned to the WFA with our Two Oceans Aquarium veterinarian, Dr Ilse Jenkinson, and our Foundation’s Head of Research, Dr Nathalie Viljoen. Nathalie addressed the delegates about the Foundation's overarching research programme and work in sunfish, marine wildlife, sea turtle, and elasmobranch research. Other invited representatives included people from local and foreign universities, NGOs, and private or governmental organisations with an interest in wildlife forensics and conservation.

Dr Greg Simpson, Director and Co-Founder of the WFA, intended the research day to be “a dive into discussions on the world of wildlife forensic science with insights on past research, present needs, and future resources”. A further objective of the research day was for delegates to bring forward ideas of research needs and resource availability.

“Participants engaged in enriching exchanges with various institutions and organisations, gaining insights into ongoing efforts within the wildlife crime industry and identifying areas for improvement in processing, enforcement, and prosecution,” says Greg.

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Our Marine Wildlife Management Programme is continually up-skilling its team members in order to effectively manage the wildlife in the V&A Waterfront and better mediate human-wildlife interactions in the precinct. Part of this work includes collaborating with like-minded organisations, so we're extending heartfelt thanks to the WFA for sharing their expertise in the fascinating field of wildlife forensics! Martine's new insight and skills will surely complement her work on the MWMP team. 

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