Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 165–171 | Cite as

Forensic species identification of elephant (Elephantidae) and giraffe (Giraffidae) tail hair using light microscopy

  • Bonnie C. Yates
  • Edgard O. Espinoza
  • Barry W. BakerEmail author
Original Article


Here we present methods for distinguishing tail hairs of African elephants (Loxodonta africana), Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), and giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) from forensic contexts. Such hairs are commonly used to manufacture jewelry artifacts that are often sold illegally in the international wildlife trade. Tail hairs from these three species are easily confused macroscopically, and morphological methods for distinguishing African and Asian tail hairs have not been published. We used cross section analysis and light microscopy to analyze the tail hair morphology of 18 individual African elephants, 18 Asian elephants, and 40 giraffes. We found that cross-sectional shape, pigment placement, and pigment density are useful morphological features for distinguishing the three species. These observations provide wildlife forensic scientists with an important analytical tool for enforcing legislation and international treaties regulating the trade in elephant parts.


Loxodonta africana Elephas maximus Giraffa camelopardalis Hair identification Forensic mammalogy Wildlife trade Light microscopy 



Doina Voin provided German and Russian translations of relevant literature and helped acquire the tail hairs used in this study. Laura Blount prepared the hair cross sections and mounted the hairs used in this study. Darby Morrell produced Fig. 1 and Michael Scanlan produced Fig. 4. The Sterling Evans Library at Texas A&M University was instrumental in obtaining literature. We thank Linzi Wilson-Wilde for inviting us to submit this manuscript. The findings and conclusions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bonnie C. Yates
    • 1
  • Edgard O. Espinoza
    • 1
  • Barry W. Baker
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.US National Fish and Wildlife Forensics LaboratoryUnited States Fish & Wildlife ServiceAshlandUSA

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