CSIRO Publishing blank image blank image blank image blank imageBooksblank image blank image blank image blank imageJournalsblank image blank image blank image blank imageAbout Usblank image blank image blank image blank imageShopping Cartblank image blank image blank image You are here: Journals > Wildlife Research   
Wildlife Research
Journal Banner
  Ecology, Management and Conservation in Natural and Modified Habitats
blank image Search
blank image blank image
blank image
  Advanced Search

Journal Home
About the Journal
Editorial Structure
Online Early
Current Issue
Just Accepted
All Issues
Special Issues
Sample Issue
For Authors
General Information
Submit Article
Author Instructions
Open Access
For Referees
Referee Guidelines
Review an Article
Annual Referee Index
For Subscribers
Subscription Prices
Customer Service
Print Publication Dates

blue arrow e-Alerts
blank image
Subscribe to our Email Alert or RSS feeds for the latest journal papers.

red arrow Connect with us
blank image
facebook twitter LinkedIn


Article     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 40(4)

Body of evidence: forensic use of baseline health assessments to convict wildlife poachers

Brian T. Henen A C D , Margaretha D. Hofmeyr A and Ernst H. W. Baard B

A Chelonian Biodiversity and Conservation – Southern Africa, Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, University of the Western Cape, Private Bag X17, Bellville 7535, South Africa.
B CapeNature, Private Bag 5014, Stellenbosch 7599, South Africa.
C Present address: Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs, MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms, CA 92278, USA.
D Corresponding author. Email: bthenen@yahoo.com

Wildlife Research 40(4) 261-268 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR13056
Submitted: 2 December 2012  Accepted: 13 May 2013   Published: 12 June 2013

PDF (294 KB) $25
 Export Citation

Context: Given the immense impact of wildlife trade, disease and repatriations on populations, health assessments can provide powerful forensic material to help convict wildlife poachers and minimise risks of releasing unhealthy wildlife.

Aims: We aimed to use reference ranges to assess the health of confiscated tortoises, to illustrate forensic application of these ranges, and to advance analyses for future applications.

Methods: We used analyses of variance (ANOVA) and covariance (ANCOVA), and composite indices, to compare wild and confiscate tortoise body condition, haematocrit and haemoglobin concentration of males and females of three tortoise species. Subsequently, we used multivariate statistics (e.g. discriminant analyses) to evaluate the relative importance of species, sex and group (wild or confiscate) on tortoise condition and haematology.

Key results: Our initial statistical tests demonstrated, at P < 0.05 to P < 0.0005, that confiscate body condition and haematology were compromised compared with that of wild tortoises. Subsequently, discriminant analyses strongly discriminated between most wild and confiscate groups (P < 0.0001), correctly classified individual health as wild or confiscate 80–90% of the time, indicated that species and sex effects were stronger than was the wild-confiscate category, and provided discriminant functions for use on other taxa and studies.

Conclusions: The health assessments discriminated well between wild and confiscate tortoises. The results had considerable forensic value, being relevant, quickly generated using portable field equipment, reliable, accurate, easy to explain and convey in terms of likelihood in a court of law, synergistically consistent among variables and groups, a strong rebuttal to the poachers’ specific statements, and consistent with other types of evidence. Multivariate analyses were consistent with, and more prudent and powerful than, the original statistical analyses. Discriminant functions can be applied in future studies and on other chelonian species, and should be developed for other wildlife species.

Implications: Reference ranges provide considerable value for forensics, diagnostics and treatment. Given the disease risks resulting from the massive scale of wildlife trade and release, reference ranges should be developed for more species.


Anderson, G. S. (1999). Wildlife forensic entomology: determining time of death in two illegally killed black bear cubs. Journal of Forensic Sciences 44, 856–859.
| CAS | PubMed |

Atkins, A., Jacobson, E., Hernandez, J., Bolten, A. B., and Lu, X. (2010). Use of a portable point-of-care (Vetscan VS2) biochemical analyzer for measuring plasma biochemical levels in free-living loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta). Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 41, 585–593.
CrossRef | PubMed |

Bailey, T., Silvanose, C., Naldo, J., Combreau, O., Launay, F., Wernery, U., Kinne, J., Gough, R., and Manvell, R. (2000). Health considerations of the rehabilitation of illegally traded houbara bustards Chlamydotis undulata macqueenii in the Middle East. Oryx 34, 325–334.

Berry, K. H., and Christopher, M. M. (2001). Guidelines for the field evaluation of desert tortoise health and disease. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 373, 427–450.

Christopher, M. M., Berry, K. H., Wallis, I. R., Nagy, K. A., Henen, B. T., and Peterson, C. C. (1999). Reference intervals and physiologic alterations in hematologic and biochemical values of free-ranging desert tortoises in the Mojave Desert. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 352, 212–238.

Cooper, J. E., Cooper, M. E., and Budgen, P. (2009). Wildlife crime scene investigation: techniques, tools and technology. Endangered Species Research 9, 229–238.
CrossRef |

EUROPOL (2011). ‘EU Organised Crime Assessment.’ (Europol Analysis and Knowledge Unit: The Hague, Netherlands.)

Fidenci, P., and Maran, J. (2009). Illegal domestic trade of the Philippine Forest Turtle (Siebenrockiella leytensis) in the Philippines. TurtleLog 3, 1–3. Available at http://www.iucn-tftsg.org/turtlelog_online_newsletter/tln003/ [Verified 27 January 2013].

Flint, M., Morton, J. M., Limpus, C. J., Patterson-Kane, J. C., Murray, P. J., and Mills, P. C. (2010). Development and application of biochemical and haematological reference intervals to identify unhealthy green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas). Veterinary Journal 185, 299–304.
CrossRef |

Hair, J. F., Jr, Anderson, R. E., Tatham, R. L., and Black, W. C. (1998). ‘Multivariate Data Analysis.’ 5th edn. (Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River, NJ.)

Henen, B. T. (1994). Seasonal and annual energy and water budgets of female desert tortoises (Xerobates agassizii) at Goffs, California. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, CA.

Henen, B. T., and Hofmeyr, M. D. (2001). Confiscated South African tortoises: a preliminary health assessment for the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board and the Tygerberg Zoo. Chelonian Biodiversity and Conservation – Southern Africa, University of the Western Cape, Bellville, South Africa.

Jacobson, E. R., Schumacher, J., and Green, M. (1992). Field and clinical techniques for sampling and handling blood for hematologic and selected biochemical determinations in the desert tortoise, Xerobates agassizii. Copeia 1992, 237–241.
CrossRef |

Leuteritz, T.E.J., and Weissgold, B. (2013). Shell-shocked: trade in turtles threatens species. Fish and Wildlife News Winter 2013, 17.

Ogden, R., Dawnay, N., and McEwing, R. (2009). Wildlife DNA forensics – bridging the gap between conservation genetics and law enforcement. Endangered Species Research 9, 179–195.
CrossRef |

Osborne, A. G., Jacobson, E. R., Bresette, M. J., Singewald, D. A., Scarpino, R. A., Bolton, A. B., and Lu, X. (2010). Reference intervals and relationships between health status, carapace length, body mass, and water temperature and concentrations of plasma total protein and protein electrophoretogram fractions in Atlantic loggerhead sea turtles and green turtles. Journal of the American Veterinarian Medical Association 237, 561–567.
CrossRef | CAS |

Real, J., Mañosa, S., and Muñoz, E. (2000). Trichomoniasis in a Bonelli’s eagle population in Spain. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 36, 64–70.
| CAS | PubMed |

Sainsbury, A. W., and Vaughan-Higgins, R. J. (2012). Analyzing disease risks associated with translocations. Conservation Biology 26, 442–452.
CrossRef | PubMed |

Spicer, J. (2005). ‘Making Sense of Multivariate Data Analysis.’ (Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks, CA.)

Swimmer, J. Y. (2000). Biochemical responses to fibropapilloma and captivity in the green turtle. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 36, 102–110.
| CAS | PubMed |

TRAFFIC (2004). Seizures and prosecutions. TRAFFIC Bulletin 20, 1–43.

TRAFFIC (2010). Experts to establish Wildlife Forensics Network. Traffic Wildlife Trade News. Available at http://www.traffic.org/home [Verified 21 January 2013].

United States Fish and Wildlife Service (1994). ‘Desert Tortoise (Mojave Population) Recovery Plan.’ (United States Fish and Wildlife Service: Portland, OR.)

Ward, J. L., Hall, K., Christian, L. S., and Lewbart, G. A. (2012). Plasma biochemistry and condition of confiscated hatchling pig-nosed turtles (Carettochelys insculpta). Herpetological Conservation and Biology 7, 38–45.

Western Cape Nature Conservation Board (2001). A major breakthrough for environmental law enforcement. Western Cape Nature Conservation Board Media Release, 31 August 2001, Jonkershoek, South Africa.

Wyler, L. S., and Sheikh, P. A. (2008). ‘International Illegal Trade in Wildlife: Threats and US Policy.’ (Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress: Washington, DC.)

Zar, J. H. (1999). ‘Biostatistical Analysis.’ 4th edn. (Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River, NJ.)

Subscriber Login

Legal & Privacy | Contact Us | Help


© CSIRO 1996-2015