Fish and Wildlife opens a new lab for crime scene investigators

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Think of them as a crime scene investigators for animals instead of people.

That's exactly who is staffing the new Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission forensics lab off western Northlake Blvd in West Palm Beach.

They investigate a wide variety of criminal activity.

"Fish species, harvested illegally. Usually the officers only find traces of blood or fish or whatever. We can determine using the forensic technology, forensic DNA technology to determine that a protected species has been in the hands of a suspect," says Hector Cruz-Lopez, the FWC forensic biologist who heads the lab.

In the past, officers had to catch someone in the act and actually have the illegal animal on them, now all they need is a DNA sample to get a conviction in court.

FWC Capt. Jeff Ardelean says, "We get better fines and better success in prosecution on those cases when we use what he (Hector) gives us on our cases in court. Cases that wouldn't be made in the past are now being made because of Hector and the lab."

The FWC recently outfitted dozens of investigators from around the state with CSI kits. The kits contain special tools for the detection and collection of forensic evidence in the field.

Rather than sending samples all over the country, the FWC now can analyze all the evidence at the new lab, and that saves time and money.

The new high-tech facility includes a 120 thousand dollar DNA Sequencer to help pinpoint exact DNA from all sorts of species.

From poaching eggs, possessing protected and endangered bird feathers and talons, or catching underweight lobsters, the FWC will be able to tell exactly what happened.

The lab is seeking national accreditation which will also give it more legal credibility.

If you see anyone illegally harvesting wildlife, call the "FWC Hotline" at 888-404-3922.

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