Using crime scene investigation to combat wildlife crimes
Ravi Perera shows us how
When one speaks about Crime Scene Investigation (CSI), a knee-jerk response is to muse about popular TV series CSI, which continues to dominate the criminological imaginations of millions of people worldwide.
In this regard, it’s hard to imagine that the seemingly futuristic tools and technologies used could be applied to wildlife crimes – particularly animal trafficking and poaching. This is exactly what Ravi Perera, a crime scene investigator and the Serendipity Wildlife Foundation CEO, specialises in.
Stating that “there were no TV shows that glamorised the profession, and had beautiful people solving crimes in less than 60 minutes” when he started out, the expert now boasts 25 years of experience in this field. Trained at the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia, Ravi was trained in obtaining fingerprints, DNA, CSI photography, the collection of evidence, reconstruction of a shooting scene, and surveillance photography.
Despite the stiff competition in the academy itself, he proved successful and later moved on to teaching CSI part-time to law enforcement officials, arson investigators, and high school students.
When asked about his most memorable experience as a crime scene investigator, Ravi shared that he was once asked to identify gunshot residue on a suspect who fired a gun in a homicide case. Despite being interrogated on the stand for two hours by the defendant’s lawyer, the suspect finally admitted to his crime and was sentenced to 20 years in prison!
Speaking of the challenges present in the field prior to the introduction of modern tools, the CSI expert reminisced that when he started out, 35mm film was being used for photography. Given the limitation of this technology, crucial shots were, sometimes, either under-exposed or over-exposed.
Fast-forwarding to 1999, Ravi was one of the first in the State to transition to digital photography.
Stating that his team was among the first forensic units that combined traditional CSI and electronic forensics, this allowed them to analyse cell phone and computers, both of which contains an astounding amount of evidence and leads.
Given his extensive travels to Kenya, Ravi was later requested to teach an anti-poaching unit with a focus on collecting gun-shot residue. This, he says, is pivotal to the detection of suspects, given that it can be hard to tell which individual is responsible from a group of perpetrators. Despite this, prosecutions are few and far between owing to the lack of physical evidence.
In light of this situation, the FBI-trained crime scene investigator started experimenting with the possibility of lifting fingerprints from tusks and horns. While this proved to be challenging at the outset, he was later successful, heralding a new trend in the tactics and tools employed by CSI experts in dealing with wildlife crimes.
When asked whether Sri Lanka has the technology and capacity to implement the same strategies, the Founder of the Serendipity Wildlife Foundation stated that this is something he’s keen to learn during his stay in the country.
Noting that the technology in both Kenya and the US is very sophisticated, he outlined that with forensic technology, there is a vast amount of information that can be gleaned from mobiles and computers.
He also believes that it is more pertinent to inquire about the stage at which the problem of poaching is tackled in Sri Lanka, rather than whether the country has a need for it. Here, he states that poaching is not only done to obtain ivory, but it is a practice fuelled by a desire to consume wildlife meat.
Outlining his future plans, Ravi seeks to set up a database of fingerprints through his organisation exclusively for wildlife crimes. With two countries in mind at the moment – Kenya and Sri Lanka – he intends to curb the abysmal rates of wildlife crimes in both countries. Apart from these territories, he also plans to conduct an anti-poaching unit in South Africa sometime next year.
Having arrived in the country to share his experience through a lecture organised by the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka (which was conducted last week, Thursday, 15 November), his stay represents an invaluable opportunity for local wildlife experts to better understand the detection and investigation of wildlife crimes.
Perhaps, with an investment in the right tools and training, we may just be able to leverage CSI experts like Ravi to get a hold on poaching and other violations of local law.
Serendipity Wildlife Foundation
By Archana Heenpella