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DFG to Use DNA to Catch Poachers

April 10, 1998|PETE THOMAS

Deer poachers might soon find it a whole lot easier to land in hot water.

The Department of Fish and Game, after 20 years of research by forensics experts, announced that it has become the first wildlife agency in the country to develop the technology to use DNA analysis in its never-ending fight against poachers.

"Commercial poaching is a $100-million-a-year business in California," says Terry Mansfield, chief of the department's wildlife management division, "and these new techniques can be used to support our officers and assist the department in the important law enforcement component of our deer management program."

Fred Cole, deputy chief of the wildlife protection division of the DFG, added, "In my career here, this is the most significant breakthrough in fish and wildlife law enforcement. We have the capability now to identify a specific animal."

Which means a drop of blood or a patch of fur, or any other part of a deer carcass found in the field or on someone's property, can now be used as evidence against those thought to be involved in the illegal taking of deer.

A recent demonstration for game wardens by the DFG's wildlife forensics laboratory proved 100% accurate. The lab used samples from 10 deer from 10 different locations, cutting the samples in half and moving them around, then matching them through DNA analysis.

The first case to be prosecuted by the DFG involving the technology is pending. According to a department news release, late last year a warden got a tip that a suspect had slaughtered a doe, which is illegal, and had the meat stowed in his freezer.

When the warden arrived at the suspect's house, he was denied access to the freezer, but found a clump of what appeared to be deer hair and spots of blood in the yard. They were collected and sent to the lab, where it was determined that the hair and blood stains indeed came from a doe.

A search warrant was obtained, evidence was gathered and the suspect was nabbed. The DNA results, it is hoped, will prove that the hair and blood found in the yard once belonged to the venison in the freezer.

The DFG is hoping to eventually use that technology with other animals that are subject to frequent poaching or are involved in attacks on humans.


Michael Fowlkes Productions recently won top honors at the 19th annual Telly Awards competition for its two-part miniseries, "Sea of Dreams," produced for Fox Sports West by Inside Sportfishing.

The Telly Awards honor top non-network commercials, films and video productions.

"Sea of Dreams," filmed on location at Hotel Palmas de Cortez in Baja California's East Cape region, features mesmerizing underwater footage of marlin and dorado working enormous schools of baitfish into tightly grouped, swirling masses, as well as excellent footage of the fantastic fishing in the area.

Surely what clinched the Telly Award for Fowlkes, though, was a scene involving a fisherman struggling to gain an edge against an unusually large striped marlin, sweating up a storm under the brutal Baja sun, on a boat that had developed engine trouble immediately after the hookup and was dead in the water.

I'm a little biased though. I was that fisherman, and Fowlkes must have done a tremendous job of editing that segment because I'm pretty sure that much of what I said during the hourlong fight wasn't fit for morning television. I did get the billfish to the boat, though, then watched it swim wearily away after the deckhand turned it loose in keeping with the hotel's catch-and-release philosophy.

"Sea of Dreams" can be ordered on videotape through Michael Fowlkes Productions at (714) 497-3031.


Nearly two years after setting sail from San Diego, after a dramatic rescue at sea off the Falkland Islands and seemingly endless periods of being blown about by gale-force winds, Karen Thorndike has rounded her fifth and final great cape and is on the homestretch.

And should she complete the final, 9,000-mile leg of her journey from New Zealand to San Diego, she will become the first American woman to solo-circumnavigate the globe in a sailboat without cheating--i.e., taking the equatorial route through the canals.

How does it feel to finally have light at the end of the tunnel?

"My feelings are a bit mixed," Thorndike said in a recent phone interview from Dunedin, New Zealand, after surviving treacherous winds beyond Southwest Cape. "I'm glad to have rounded the final cape, which turned out to be the hardest. But I realize, too, that the end is in sight and, gosh, in some ways I wish it wasn't going to end."

Thorndike, 55, of Seattle, hopes to pull into San Diego, after stops in Tahiti and Hawaii, in July or August.


The seaside Mexican party town of Rosarito Beach now has more than bars, hotels and and nearby lobster restaurants to lure tourists. It has the Titanic Museum, having been headquarters for the filming of the epic drama, which won 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, at last month's Academy Awards.

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