The scene of the crime

This article was originally published in The Horn, spring 2012. Author: Cathy Dean, Director)

Wêreldsend, a place so remote that the nearest shop is about 180kms away, was buzzing. Police tape cordoned off a suspicious-looking patch of grass. Bones lay scattered around. A metal detector emitted a gentle hum as it was carefully hovered over the area. And around 30 expectant Namibians watched as the course leaders, Rod Potter and Wayne Evans, explained what to do.

No, this wasn’t an investigation into Tory party funding, but a series of Scene of the Crime training courses developed by Wildlife Investigators Rod Potter and Wayne Evans, especially for wildlife managers who have to deal with suspicious deaths of animals, particularly rhino and elephant, on their turf. Over the course of three weeks, Rod and Wayne taught groups of staff from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the Protected Resource Unit of the Namibian Police, Save the Rhino Trust and Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, what to look for, how to collect evidence and how to present the best possible prosecution should the case come to court.

Each Advanced course participant received a detailed course handbook, which included all the references and material taught

 

Each Advanced course participant received a detailed course handbook, which included all the references and material taught

 

A model of a black rhino is used to demonstrate anatomy and to illustrate where to look for bullets

Credit: Kobus de Wet

A model of a black rhino is used to demonstrate anatomy, and to illustrate where to look for bullets

 

A session on practical exhibits demonstrated items that might be found at a crime scene, ranging from weapons (axe, handgun, snare, bullet cartridges etc) to things that the poachers might have discarded (clothing, drinks cans)

A session on practical exhibits demonstrated items that might be found at a crime scene, ranging from weapons (axe, handgun, snare, bullet cartridges etc) to things that the poachers might have discarded (clothing, drinks cans)

 

One of the practical sessions: the participants study a pretend crime scene before the start of the training course and discuss what sort of things they might be looking for at the site

One of the practical sessions: the participants study a pretend crime scene before the start of the training course and discuss what sort of things they might be looking for at the site

 

All those who might encounter a wildlife crime scene should carry an incident or pocket book, in which they can record details of the investigation. These notes will be invaluable when they come to present the case in court

Credit: Wayne Evans

All those who might encounter a wildlife crime scene should carry an incident or pocket book, in which they can record details of the investigation. These notes will be invaluable when they come to present the case in court

Trainees learned how to make plaster casts of footprints found at the scene, which might later link a suspect to the crime

 

Trainees learned how to take plaster casts of footprints found at the scene, which might later link a suspect to the crime

 

Using a metal detector to look for bullet casings and bullets requires careful screening of the entire area

 

Using a metal detector to look for bullet casings and bullets requires careful scanning of the entire area

 

 

Rod and Wayne showed trainees how to identify elephant ivory and how to distinguish real rhino horns from fake ones

 

Rod and Wayne showed trainees how to identify elephant ivory and how to distinguish real rhino horns from fake ones

 

A second practical exercise saw participants divide into groups to examine two suspicious sites – a campsite and a vehicle – and record evidence. Each group then reported back on their methods and procedures, followed by critique and discussions

 

A second practical exercise saw participants divide into groups to examine two suspicious sites – a campsite and a vehicle – and record evidence. Each group then reported back on their methods and procedures, followed by critique and discussions

 

 

One of the groups at work planning how they would inspect a suspect vehicle

 

One of the groups at work on planning how they would inspect a suspect vehicle

 

 

The Basic courses were aimed at anyone who might encounter a carcass in the course of their normal work: Save the Rhino Trust’s trackers, MET’s national parks staff etc

The Basic courses were aimed at anyone who might encounter a carcass in the course of their normal work: Save the Rhino Trust’s trackers, MET’s national parks staff etc

 

Simson Uri-Khob, Director of Capacity Building at Save the Rhino Trust, puts into practice his newly learned Train-the-Trainer skillsHaving learned how to carry out crime scene investigations on the Advanced Course, seven of those who qualified went on to take part in the Train-the-trainer course, so that they could teach further groups of people via two Basic courses for up to 30 people each

Wayne Evans and Rod Potter, the course instructors, in the beautiful setting of Wêreldsend

 

 

Credit: Bernd Brell

Wayne Evans and Rod Potter, the course instructors, in the beautiful setting of Wêreldsend

 

 

Bernd Brell (left), Director of Field Operations at Save the Rhino Trust, Namibia; Rod Potter (right) presenting Bernd with his well-deserved Advanced course certificate

 

On the left, Bernd Brell, Director of Field Operations at Save the Rhino Trust Namibia; on the right, Rod Potter presenting Bernd with his well deserved Advanced course certificate

 

Some comments from participants:

The way of integrating practical and theoretical work was good and made it enjoyable

I can only say keep up the good job – without what you taught us I can see rhinos dying and criminals winning in most cases

We need to expose the court to the importance of Wildlife crime and their impact so they prosecute effectively

Thanks

We would like to thank: USFWS and the Game Products Trust Fund, which awarded $24,585 and $20,655 respectively towards the cost of the Advanced, Train-the-trainer and Basic courses; IRDNC, for hosting the training courses at Wêreldsend; Bernd Brell of Save the Rhino Trust for organising the logistics; and of course Rod Potter and Wayne Evans, the trainers.

Credit: All photos credited to Rod Potter unless otherwise noted