The Wildlife Detectives: How Forensic Scientists Fight Crimes Against Nature by Donna M. Jackson is particularly intriguing for me as a resident of Ashland, Oregon—which is home to the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory. Open since 1989, this lab is the only full-service animal crime lab in the world, and all evidence of crimes against animals (poaching, illegal hunting, selling, or transport of endangered species, and more) come through its doors.
The Wildlife Detectives is a picture book, comprising photographs of magnificent animals (among them: bald eagles, wolves, owls, tigers, parrots) as well as images of the forensics lab and those who work with evidence to solve crimes. The main narrative is the heartbreaking story of Charger, a bull elk in Yellowstone National Park who was gunned down for his antlers. The story tells of how detectives investigated the killing and eventually tracked down the murderer—a fascinating and page-turning story (though ultimately disappointing in that the sentence didn’t seem to be at all equal to the crime).
Interspersed throughout this mystery are “Wild Files,” in which the author highlights various aspects related to the story, such as the facts about the crime lab, endangered species, poaching, and what these animal parts are used for (“Heartbreak Zoo” shows images of snakeskin sneakers and a footstool made of an elephant foot, among other things), including sections on feathers and ivory. It’s eye-opening and informative, and especially important for young readers to be aware of, as it’s a great way to teach compassion as well as smart buying and traveling habits (a section at the end, “Wild Work to Be Done,” outlines what readers can do to help).
The Wildlife Detectives is aimed toward readers in grades 4 to 7, according to School Library Journal. Yet the gripping detective story will interest kids of even younger ages, and the language and information is sophisticated enough for older readers as well—it’s certainly not a kids-only book. Its photos, both beautiful and tragic, illustrate the crimes against animals that continue to occur, and the book honors these animals as well as the people who do the important and challenging work of solving these crimes.
Midge Raymond is a co-founder of Ashland Creek Press. She is the author of the novel My Last Continent and the award-winning short story collection Forgetting English. Her suspense novel, Devils Island, co-authored with John Yunker, is forthcoming from Oceanview Publishing in 2024, and her novel Floreana is forthcoming from Little A in 2025.