Dr. R. Christopher O'Brien

“Wildlife Forensic – How Science is Combating the Illegal Trade in Plants and Animals”
Monday, November 2, 2015 at 2:00 p.m. Marvin K. Peterson Library, Upper Level


The trade in illegal plants and animals is estimated to top 54 billion US dollars a year. The majority of the trade goes to mainland China for traditional Chinese medicine however a large portion comes to the US for our domestic market. Unfortunately there is an enormous trade with very few people in the forensic field that deal directly with it. A wildlife forensic scientist conducts many of the same tests and analyses that a human forensic scientist does however they are responsible for all the other species on the planet.>

This could range from identification of shark fin cartilage to elephant ivory to illegal timber. This talk will explore the role of a wildlife forensic scientist and the challenges they face. The talk will also discuss where the real issues are in the illegal trade and not just the over-sensationalized ones. Examples from the trade will be brought to the talk so the audience can see and touch what is often reported on. We hope that the audience will leave with the sense of urgency that is needed to create real change.

Biographical Information

I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Florida in anthropology and then received my MFS from National University. At that point I decided to continue my education outside of the United States. I spent 16 months on the south island of New Zealand before moving to Perth, Western Australia to complete my Ph.D. I was awarded my Ph.D. from the University of Western Australia in 2008. My thesis research investigated animal scavenging behavior and the related decompostional rates using pig carcasses as an analogue for human bodies.


Once the thesis was completed I moved to Toronto, Canada to conduct my postdoctoral research which further investigated animal scavenging, and this time with the presence of large carnivores. My first faculty position was in Oklahoma where with the assistance of students, the scavenging research continued. At this point I became more active in wildlife forensics and was elected to the Scientific Working Group on Wildlife Forensics (SWGWILD) that is now the Organization of Scientific Area Committees Wildlife Forensic Subcommittee. Now with the University of New Haven, my current research interests lie in animal scavenging, the trade in illegal shark fins, and several other wildlife related areas.


Dr. R. Christopher O'Brien's University of New Haven web page.

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