The CFSRE African Wildlife Forensics program is a bold and innovative science-driven response to the looming extinction crisis for African wildlife. Poisons and pesticides pose one of the major threats to dwindling populations of elephants, hippos, vultures, and other African wildlife species. Many poisoning events are intentional (through the use of baited fruit, animal carcasses, or water supplies) and are often crimes under local law. Some poisoning events are accidental but, like deliberate poisonings, can threaten entire ecosystems, including human beings, as poisons move through the food web or watersheds. For example, one elephant killed by poisoning could in turn poison hundreds of other animals that eat from its carcass.

Elephants at sunset in Liwonde National Park. Malawi

To combat these toxic threats, local governments and NGOs need effective ways to identify which poisons and pesticides are involved in poisoning events and where they came from. This information gives them tools (including evidence admissible in courts) to curb poaching and illegal activities. This knowledge also creates a basis for working with local communities toward solving human-wildlife conflicts and accidental poisonings. However, wildlife forensic toxicology remains an understudied area of forensic science, leaving gaps in our global knowledge and capabilities. Many wildlife poisoning events in African countries are never solved.

So, at the invitation of African NGOs and governments, the CFSRE started African Wildlife Forensics in 2016. CFSRE began developing qualitative toxicological methods for the analysis of pesticides and poisons commonly used in African countries. Over time, we have also pioneered field data collection methods and ways of identifying unknown pesticides and poisons that may turn up in samples. Our laboratory and our collaborators have developed a network with conservation groups in African countries including Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, and we continue to expand and innovate our work and collaborations. Collaborators include Great Plains Conservation, Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust, WD4C, and CARACAL. The African Wildlife Forensics program provides shipping, sample analysis, and results at no cost to our partner organizations.


Research

The CFSRE specializes in forensic testing of biological, chemical, and toxicological materials. At their request, we work with our African collaborators to safely collect, preserve, process and ship samples to us for analysis by our forensic scientists on our laboratory equipment. We conduct these analyses free of charge to our partners.

When suspected poisoning samples arrive at our facility, we utilize a basic liquid-liquid extraction and conduct follow-up analysis using the Waters Acquity UPLC coupled to a Waters Xevo TQD MS. Sample types have included baited fruit; stomach, intestinal and crop contents; muscle; urine; liver; serum; and tissue. Positive test results have revealed that carbofuran, aldicarb, and monocrotophos are the dominant pesticides used in these poisonings.

When we detect positive test results, we identify the substance used in the poisonings in order to assist law enforcement and wildlife advocates with wildlife conservation and rehabilitation efforts. We also share the findings with our collaborators, which include conservation and humanitarian organizations working with communities to find ways of living more safely alongside wildlife. Partnering with communities in education efforts and proven methods to reduce human-wildlife conflict can drastically reduce the use of poisons, resulting in a higher quality of life in communities and healthier wildlife populations.

We are continually developing and improving our forensic wildlife program, presenting findings at international chemistry and toxicology conferences, and expanding the reach of this initiative through a growing network of project collaborators and sponsors.

Our goal is to support our partners in Africa through long-term forensic investigations. This includes expanding our collaborative partnership to additional field response teams. We aim to expand our capabilities to aid in criminal investigations, identify possible geographic links or patterns, and determine the source or manufacturers of poisons.

A mother and baby hippo walk near the Kazinga Channel in Uganda.


Get Involved

If you represent an NGO or government agency working in Africa (including conservationionists, veterinarians, and law enforcement), please see our list of resources below and contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you would like to discuss collaboration or transmit samples to our lab.

If you are a scientist or researcher and would like to collaborate with us, please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

If you would like to support African Wildlife Forensics financially, we welcome your support. Shipping and analyzing samples and communicating results is all done at no cost to our partner organizations. Your financial support will help us expand our partnerships and our impact.
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Resources

The CFSRE is working to develop training materials and resources for different organizations+ interested in the extraction and identification of this materials.

Publications and Presentations

  • LC/UV Spectral Method to Identify the Manufacturer of a Pesticide Formulation or Show that it is a Forgery – Stephen Donovan, SWFS Newsletter, March 2021
  • “Analysis of Pesticides in African Wildlife Samples”– Meaghan P. Drumm, Stephen F. Donovan, Alana J. Balogh, Barry K. Logan, SOFT, Platform Presentation, October 2018
  • “Multi-Species Action Plan for The Conservation of Vultures”- Alana J. Balogh and Stephen F. Donovan, Wildlife Poisoning Conference in Pretoria South Africa, Workshop, August 2018
  • “Wildlife Poisoning”- Alana J. Balogh and Stephen F. Donovan, Wildlife Poisoning in Pretoria South Africa, Workshop, August 2018
  • “Analysis of Carbamate and Organophosphate Pesticides in Animal Poisoning Cases by GC/MS”- Jessica M. Greene, Stephen F. Donovan, Alana J. Balogh, Barry K. Logan, Pennsylvania Research Exchange, Platform Presentation, March 2017
  • “Analysis of Carbamate and Organophosphate Pesticides in Animal Poisoning Cases by Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry” – Jessica M. Greene, Stephen F. Donovan, Alana J. Balogh, Barry K. Logan, AAFS, Poster Presentation, February 2017
  • “An Overview of the Chemistry, Manufacture, Environmental Fate and Detection of Carbofuran” – Stephen F. Donovan, Mark Taggart and Ngaio Richards, Chapter 1 in Carbofuran and Wildlife Poisoning: Global Perspectives and Forensic Approaches, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012. Editorial Assistance: Alana Balogh and Others
  • Judith Rodriguez Salas’ Poster “Untargeted Poisoning of Southern Africa Wildlife".
White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) - portrait

Project Personnel

  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is a Forensic Toxicologist I at the CFSRE responsible for sample analysis and results reporting.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. has extensive experience in agrochemistry, clinical chemistry, organic chemistry and a wide variety of analytical techniques. He is a mentor in applying analytical techniques in agrochemistry relative to conservation and poisoning prevention.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., BFA, Environmental Science AA, Montgomery County Police Academy, PA State Park Ranger II. Alana has worked with an extensive network of conservation partners in the US and Africa to promote conservation & environmental protection.
  • Dr. Barry K. Logan, Executive Director, holds a dual appointment at the CFSRE as well as Sr. VP of Forensic Science Initiatives and Chief Scientist at NMS Labs. He is a renowned Forensic Toxicologist experienced in the administration of federal and NGO research.
  • Dr. Michael F. Rieders, is Chief Science Officer, and a federal and state licensed laboratory director and forensic toxicologist at NMS Labs, Inc. with over 35 years of expertise. He is currently working on grants with international partners.