PULLMAN – A biologist and her students plan to dig up a bear that was buried this summer after it was found dumped on a far corner of Washington State University’s Pullman property.
Bethany Marshall, who specializes in forensic entomology and trains future detectives and forensic specialists who handle human cases, plans to spend today with 14 students unearthing the shallow grave at a secret location where the bear was placed by groundskeepers.
“This is an incredible opportunity,” she said. “It exactly mimics a real homicide.”
The bear, roughly the size of a human, was likely killed somewhere off campus, dumped in one place and then moved and buried in a grave not 3 feet deep, she said. By exhuming the bear and examining its carcass, Marshall hopes to learn where and when the bear was killed and what was done to it afterward.
The rotting bear was discovered by a WSU worker under an apple tree in mid-August and is believed to have been poached for its paws and gall bladder. There is a black market for certain bear parts used as traditional medicines in some Asian cultures.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife agents have no leads on who may have poached and dumped the large animal.
The animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the bear’s killer. But Marshall had no idea about the reward when she started looking into using the bear for her class. She read a newspaper story about the animal and immediately called the wildlife agent. He met her on his day off and they processed the dump site to recover any evidence or insects that might have come in with the carcass.
If they can track down a suspect and win the reward, Marshall and the students have agreed to use the money to further their studies.
Once they exhume the bear, students will take samples and examine it for maggots and beetles, look for plants in its stomach and note any other detail that may provide clues as to where the bear lived and when it died.
When Marshall’s class is done, the WSU Vet School will X-ray the carcass and preserve the bones for study.
It’s sad that the bear was killed, said Marshall. Though the poaching wasn’t a homicide, it’s still a crime, she said. “The one positive thing about this, though, is that now we have an unduplicatable learning experience for our forensic students.”