Bonnie Cawthon Yates

Recently retired as chief of the Morphology Section at the United States Fish & Wildlife Service National Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon, she served as the Mammal Unit Coordinator in the Morphology Section for 21 years since leaving UNT’s Institute of Applied Sciences where she was head of the Zooarchaeology Laboratory for 15 years.  The FWS lab was the first Federal facility fully devoted to assisting law enforcement solve crimes involving wildlife and in conducting investigations of wildlife evidence from around the globe. The Lab is part of the Office of Law Enforcement in the US Dept of the Interior. Her career not only focused on developing forensic protocols for the taxonomic identification of fragmentary vertebrate remains, she also enjoyed sharing her expertise by teaching other scientists and training law enforcement personnel around the world. She was presented with a Clark R. Bavin Award for Excellence in Wildlife Law Enforcement at the CITES meeting, March 2013, in Bangkok.

SWFS Abstract for 2019 – Bonnie C. Yates

“How Kitchen Middens Led Me to a Life of Crime”

The job of a forensic morphologist is to identify the victim of an alleged crime using visual characteristics. A frequent question for staff at the first “crime lab devoted to wildlife” was “How did you come to work here?”  Some took a circuitous route and others took a chance on experiencing and embarking on new discoveries in a new field of science at the service of law, now with interdisciplinary roots. Bonnie Yates, former Morphology Section supervisor at the US Fish & Wildlife Forensics Lab in Ashland, Oregon, was asked that question dozens of times in her 21-year career there.  Her route started in the Panhandle of Texas collecting bugs and rocks and lizards, attended college in the DFW Metroplex, and took a job washing animal bones from archaeological sites while going to grad school. How that experience parlayed into positions of responsibility and scholarly publications is told with humor and a touch of pathos. How it matured into her particular position in Federal law enforcement is described by the changes in scientific disciplines involved in forensic science, especially when non-human species are involved.  Traditional methods in field biology to identify species are useful, but sometimes inadequate when the critical distinguishing feature is absent in an evidence item, thus requiring novel approaches. Her case load averaged 100/yr with evidence numbering from one item to several hundred pieces in a single case and ranged from whole animal identifications to horns, teeth, bone fragments, and hair that could have come from any mammal species on the planet.