Wildlife forensics

As an independent research institute with substantial knowledge and experience in indigenous and exotic wildlife, the Leibniz-IZW provides forensic services to assist national and international governmental agencies as well as non-governmental agencies in their efforts to fight illegal activities.

Globally, illegal hunting contributes to the unsustainable exploitation of numerous wildlife species, as exemplified by rhinoceroses, tigers, pangolins and different turtle species. Modern DNA forensics can provide molecular evidence that may help to convict criminal offenders even based on trace amounts of material and thus helps to increase the risk associated with poaching and other illegal activities such as illegal trading and collecting of protected wildlife.

Services provided by the Leibniz-IZW include:

  • Investigation of possible insurance fraud (damage by wildlife, traffic accidents by contact with wildlife species);
  • Determination of the identity of the species or subspecies of confiscated animal material (fraudulent meat products, control of caviar trade, artifacts, fur etc.);
  • Assistance in suspected cases of poaching or illegal trapping of animals;
  • Species identification of animals from which only trace material is available (e.g. hair, feces, blood droplets);
  • Parentage analysis of animals for which no proper documentation is provided by the holders or owners;
  • Professional training/education on molecular methods in conservation.


Methods of choice are sequencing of mitochondrial genes or of entire mitogenomes, genotyping at microsatellite loci and search for single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). We also have larger sequencers (MiSeq, NextSeq) if more sequence information is required. Once gene sequences have been retrieved from a specimen, they need to be compared with homologous sequences from known species to assign the yet unknown species of the case material. However, many exotic species are not represented in genetic databases or are represented there by only a single (and potentially erroneous) entry. In these cases, the reliability of genetic databases as a tool to determine what species the unknown case material belongs to is severely compromised. Under these circumstances, the Leibniz-IZW's genome resource bank ARCHE with its more than 6,000 samples is often an excellent source of reliable reference material.


Prof Dr Jörns Fickel
Phone: +49(0)30 5168314
Email: fickel@izw-berlin.de