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Wildlife Forensic Specialist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Sep 27, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a wildlife forensic specialist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and necessary skills to find out if this is the career for you.

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A bachelor's degree is typically required to become a wildlife forensic specialist, with a major in wildlife sciences and a minor in forensic science. Professionals in this field need to be aware of police protocols and have good communication skills.

Essential Information

Wildlife forensic specialists help law enforcement identify animals and animal products sold illegally in this country. They examine animal-related evidence that can be used to prosecute smugglers and poachers. Most possess a particular wildlife expertise, such as birds or reptiles, and have backgrounds in areas such as animal studies, biology and criminal justice.

Required Education Bachelor's degree; major in wildlife sciences and minor in forensics or similar combination may be beneficial
Other Requirements Strong communication skills and firm understanding of police protocol
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 14% for all forensic science technicians
Median Salary (2018)* $58,230 for all forensic science technicians

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description for a Wildlife Forensic Specialist

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forensic science technicians involved in forensics collect and test evidence found at crime scenes (www.bls.gov). Wildlife forensic specialists focus on crimes that involve animals, such as the illegal distribution of animals or animal products. After evidence has been obtained, specialists determine the type of animal involved and where it came from. Most specialists work for local and state police departments or for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. They may be employed by private organizations as well.

Duties for Wildlife Forensic Specialists

Job duties will vary depending on the type of evidence collection. For example, when police arrest smugglers selling live animals, it's easier for wildlife forensic specialists to identify and catalog the animal and determine where it came from. Animal products such as reptile skin handbags, raw meat or powdered animal bones require more extensive testing. Specialists compare blood and tissue samples with previously identified wildlife. Also, they try to identify how and what killed the animal.

Besides testing and identifying evidence samples, specialists visit crime scenes to ensure evidence is properly obtained. They scan for clues that may help them identify the animal or the human suspect. After evidence has been gathered and tested, specialists serve as expert witnesses. They explain their findings to juries, show evidence and help law enforcement prosecute offenders.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

During the 2018 to 2028 decade, employment opportunities for forensic science technicians were predicted to increase much faster than average, the BLS said. The mean salary earned by forensic science technicians was $62,490, according to the BLS in May 2018.

Requirements for Wildlife Forensic Specialists

BLS data in 2008 showed a bachelor's degree was usually required for entry-level positions as a forensic technician. Because wildlife forensics is a subset of forensic studies, students may choose to major in wildlife sciences and minor in forensics or criminal justice. Wildlife sciences coursework includes biology, animal identification, wildlife anatomy, conservation and chemistry. Obtaining a minor in forensics may involve classes in criminology as well as forensic laboratory work on human, insect and animal samples.

Specialists in this field also need to understand and comply with police protocol when collecting evidence. Since most wildlife forensic specialists work with other technicians, law enforcement and other professionals on the case, they need strong communication skills and the ability to be team players.

Wildlife forensic specialists collect and process evidence related to poaching, or the illegal distribution of animals or animal parts. They may work for the federal government, police departments, or private organizations, and typically hold a bachelor's degree. A significantly faster-than-average rate of job growth is expected in this field from 2018 to 2028.

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