A review of Animal Investigators: How the World’s First Wildlife Forensics Lab Is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species by Laurel Neme.
By any measure, illegal wildlife trade is out of control—there are willing buyers for $23,000 rhinoceros-horn bowls, polar bear skins, tiger teeth and elephant ivory calling card cases. Trafficking in illegal animals alone is likely a $20 billion per year business, writes environmental journalist Laurel Neme in Animal Investigators: How the World’s First Wildlife Forensics Lab Is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species (University Press of Florida, $19.95). With that much money changing hands, it’s sophisticated business, and wildlife trafficking has even been linked to terrorism.
Once she’s established the problem, Neme gets right to the nitty-gritty in her account: the workings of the world’s only wildlife forensics crime lab, with researchers tracking the case of headless, washed-up walruses in Alaska. They were tasked—like human investigators—with determining intent: Had the animals been slaughtered for sustenance, which was legal, or for commercial sale of their tusks, which was not? There should be some drama here, and some suspense, but the pay-off is slow to come.
Those who enjoy the inner workings of a walrus dissection will appreciate Neme’s attention to detail. “The hard work dulled his blade,” Neme writes of one scientist at work, “forcing him to stop every fifteen to twenty minutes to sharpen it.” There’s a lot of potential here, but more particulars than the average reader (or CSI-watcher) is likely to want to sift through.