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Scottish scientists develop method to help wildlife crime investigators ‘fingerprint’ bird feathers in the field

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Researchers at a Scottish university have developed new technology that can read “fingerprints” from bird feathers in outdoor conditions.

In a development that could help law enforcement agencies across the globe crack down on wildlife criminals, scientists at Abertay University in Dundee have discovered that it is possible to obtain fingerprints from bird feathers even when they have been left outside exposed to the elements.

A statement issued by the university explains how previous research from PhD student Helen McMorris resulted in the discovery that it was possible to obtain fingerprints from feathers under laboratory conditions.

Describing how she hopes her research will help investigators increase the number of wildlife crime convictions in Britain, McMorris said: “At this moment in time toxicology tests can prove that a raptor has been poisoned, and you can prove that a bird has been shot through x-rays and post mortem.

“But there’s no way of telling if a human has had any contact with that bird if it’s found dead in a field or on a hillside. You have to assume there has been foul play of some description, but you can’t hone in on the actual person responsible.

“This technique potentially gives investigators the chance to prove actual human involvement in raptor persecution, be it through an identifiable fingerprint or a touch mark from a human finger that identifies exact areas of contact on the bird-of-prey.”

Now that McMorris has proved her fingerprinting technique can work outside of the lab, the university hopes the method can be used effectively by wildlife investigators in the field.

Head of Science at Abertay Dr Ben Jones said “As part of Abertay’s research in improving forensic investigation techniques, this study is an important step in moving from the laboratory closer to a real-life situation, as the technique moves from research to development for use in an investigative setting.”

According to the RSPB’s most recent report on bird crime in the UK, there were just 68 confirmed incidents of raptor persecution in Britain last year, which resulted in only four prosecutions and one conviction.

Publishing its report in September, the RSPB called on lawmakers to pass legislation to prevent the persecution of birds of prey.

In April this year, the Scottish government announced that research carried out by the Scottish Police Authority’s (SPA) Forensic Services and the University of Strathclyde had found that human DNA could be traced on bird traps that had been outside for at least 10 days, and from bird carcasses at crime scenes after at least 24 hours.

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Police in Ohio arrest 104 people in major crackdown on sex trafficking

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crackdown on sex trafficking

Undercover police in Ohio have arrested 104 people in an operation targeting the perpetrators of sex trafficking across the US state.

The three-day effort, which involved officials from more than 30 law enforcement agencies and social service organisations, resulted in 53 felony arrests, and 26 detentions relating to crimes committed against children.

In a statement, the office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said a portion of the operation focussed specifically on those seeking to engage in sexual activity with individuals they believed to be children.

“You don’t know when a man buys sex whether it’s genuine consent or, rather, the victim is being forced with a baseball bat, a knife or the next hit of heroin,” Yost said.

“When you hear a man talking about buying sex, he never says, ‘I’m buying a woman’.

“He talks about a whore, a slut, a piece – and that’s because saying what is really happening is too close to the truth for them to handle. People who think and talk like that know in their heart of hearts – it’s slavery.”

Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Director James Mackey said that one of the most effective ways to combat human trafficking is to go after the buyers of sex, without whom human traffikerrs would have no business.

The effort involved undercover police officers carrying out sting operations on the buyers of sexual services in a bid to raise awareness of the reality of human trafficking.

Separately, the Wall Street Journal reports that US authorities are investigating a trio of websites over allegations they may have been used to facilitate human trafficking, prostitution and money laundering.

The probe into EroticMonkey.ch, Eros.com and RubMaps.ch comes more than a year after the closure of Backpage.com, a classified listings website that had been repeatedly accused of facilitating sex trafficking.

In April of last year, US authorities charged Backpage.com creators Michael Lacey and James Larkin and five members of the website’s staff with a number of prostitution and money laundering offences.

It was reported at the time that the website had made it owners in excess of $500 million from listings linked to illegal sex work, with profits laundered through non-related businesses.

The US National Human Trafficking Hotline, which is run by charity Polaris, saw reports of trafficking cases rise by 25% between 2017 and last year.

Nearly 11,000 cases of human trafficking were reported in 2018, of which 7,859 were sex trafficking related, according to Polaris.

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Coalition of law enforcement agencies in the Philippines nab wildlife trader who evaded capture for years

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Coalition of law enforcement agencies in the Philippines nab wildlife trader

Wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic has revealed that police in the Philippines have arrested a major illicit wildlife trader who had evaded authorities in the country for a number of years.

A joint “buy-bust operation” conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation-Environmental Crime Division (NBI-EnCD) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Philippine Operation Group on Ivory and Illegal Wildlife Trade (DENR-POGI) resulted in the detention of the man, who is said to have had traded wildlife online without the required permits.

As well as arresting the trader, investigators seized several animals, including three Peregrine Falcons, two Eclectus Parrots, six African Spurred Tortoises and two Green Iguanas.

The man, who the NBI had been pursuing for three years, is reported to have gone to great lengths to avoid capture, cancelling deals with online customers if he became suspicious that they might be linked to law enforcement authorities.

Trading wildlife online since 2014, the man would refuse to meet his customers in person, and only dealt with those whom he had developed long term relationships.

He is now expected to face a range of charges relating to the possession and trading of wildlife products that carry a maximum jail term of four years and a fine of up to PHP300,000 ($843).

Kanitha Krishnasamy, Traffic’s Director for Southeast Asia, commented: “Catching illegal online traders is like trying to snatch shadows, so this is a big win for the Philippine authorities, and we congratulate them.

“This case should also serve as motivation for all Southeast Asian wildlife enforcement agencies that are grappling with the scourge of online wildlife trafficking.

“Persistence does pay off. Traffic hopes this case will make others think twice about trading wildlife online illegally.”

In August, Traffic published a report that highlighted the role the internet plays in the illicit trade in wildlife products.

The study, which focussed on China’s experiences of attempting to crack down on the online sale of such items, examined the policies and measures used to address wildlife cybercrime in the EU, Kenya, the US, and several key international associations.

“Due to the transnational nature of illegal wildlife trade, efforts to combat it on the internet should not be limited to China and its cyberspace,” the report said.

“As early as 2013, monitoring of online advertising of illegal ivory products targeted at EU countries revealed illegal ivory advertisements and online auctions of ivory worth more than a €1 million $1.12 million) in 10 EU countries.

“In recent years, more cases of illegal wildlife trade online have been reported around the world. These new features raise new challenges in enhancing law enforcement.

“Preliminary research published by INTERPOL in June 2017 also revealed that illicit wildlife trade is ‘infiltrating’ into the dark net.”

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Farmer jailed for smuggling illicit garlic shipments into Australia

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smuggling illicit garlic shipments into Australia

A farmer has been jailed for risking the biosecurity of Australia by smuggling garlic into the country from locations including the US, Canada and France.

Letetia Anne Ware, 53, was handed an 11-month prison term after being convicted of illegally importing more than 2,000 garlic bulbs into the country in contravention of Australia’s strict biosecurity rules.

The importation of garlic into Australia is tightly regulated owing to the fact that some varieties of the plant can carry the Xylella fastidiosa bacteria, which is considered to be one of the gravest threats to flora biodiversity in the country.

In order to be brought into Australia legitimately, shipments of garlic must be managed by licensed importers, and accompanied with official certification that proves they are free from pests and diseases.

Ware, who stepped down from her role as the Chair of the Australian Garlic industry Association (AGIA) after pleading guilty to the crime of which she was convicted, is said to have used numerous eBay accounts to order shipments of garlic from France, South Korea, Canada and the US.

Over an 18-month period, Ware imported a total of 21 consignments of garlic, on occasion telling exporters to mislabel the contents of packages as “office supplies” to avoid the attention of customs inspectors.

Hobart Supreme Court was told that Ware was fully aware of the rules relating to the biosecurity threat posed by the garlic she smuggled into the country as she had previously held an import licence for mushrooms.

She will be eligible for parole after two months, provided she hands over a A$2,000 ($1,337) fine.

The maximum penalty for illegally importing garlic into Australia is 10 years behind bars and a fine of up to A$300,000.

In a statement, the AGIA said: “The board strongly condemns any behaviour that jeopardises biosecurity or the Australian agricultural industry

“We ask for the patience and support of all our members and urge them not to contribute or participate in the ongoing perception that the AGIA board or Association were in anyway connected, or knew of, Letetia’s illegal activities…

“We understand that many garlic growers are concerned for the safety of their own crops, and can take some level of relief that Justice Gleeson found that this imported garlic was not diseased.”

In August, an Australia court jailed two men for illegally importing pig semen from Denmark in shampoo bottles.

Director of pig farm GR Pork Torben Soerensen and the company’s breeding manager Henning Laue were jailed for a minimum of 18 months and eight months respectively at Perth District Court.

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