Animal CSI: Lab Targets Illegal Species Traffic

"I start out by doing a microscopic examination of the hair, that tells me what family I'm in," she said.

Yates is an animal morphologist. She studies the shapes and structures of claws and other parts and is expert in determining what they are.

She showed ABC News how she began dissecting the case, piece by piece.

Yates' lab has a collection, something like Noah's Ark, of every animal imaginable -- a catalogue of samples used as a basis for comparison when evidence like that found in the Pa Lor case is shipped in.

"I said, 'You have elephant, you have serow, you have loris, you have douc langur -- all of these primates and endangered animals,'" said Yates. "I said this is really big."

Big cases are nothing new here.

This lab is such a unique resource that samples are sent in from around the world, from some of the 175 countries that have signed a treaty to prevent the trade of endangered animals.

It is a tough treaty to enforce.

"Human and wildlife forensics is really similar in a couple of ways," said Laurel Neme, author of "Animal Investigators," a book about the Oregon lab. "They both link a crime to a suspect and a victim, but with wildlife forensics you end up with 30,000 species of victim compared to human forensics, where it's just one."

Neme has studied dozens of animal-smuggling cases in every corner of the globe.

"Killing animals is a big business, it's worth probably $20 billion a year, it's the third-largest black-market crime in the world, following drugs," said Neme.

'A Very High Price Tag'

O'Connor said that in some cases the market for animals was bigger.

"Some of these wildlife products are more valuable than drugs," she said, pointing out a rhino horn that might bring roughly $100,000 on the black market.

The animal parts are so expensive because in some cultures, a rhinoceros horn is believed to be a cure for cancer.

But just seizing animal parts isn't enough.

In the Pa Lor investigation at the market, it took the wildlife lab months to figure out what animals they were dealing with in order to move forward with a case.

The variety of what they had to examine was enormous.

ABC News cameras were there as lab technicians handled dried elephant skin and pieces of an elephant's trunk, hooves and toenails.

Yates held a monkey face.

"That's his face, yes," she said. "And that had a very high price tag on it, I think $5,000."

Together the pieces make a surreal pile of evidence from a crime that agents say is devastating the world's forests and jungles.

"It's harming a lot of people, and you have to remember, when a species goes extinct from the planet we all lose," said O'Connor. "It doesn't come back, we can't make more. They are resources that belong to all of us, and when resources disappear the whole planet can get out of whack."

The case in Minneapolis, disturbing as it is and affecting as it does so many animals, is just a drop in the bucket.

"The biggest wildlife case in Brazil was cracked in March. It involved $20 million a year and 500,000 animals a year and [the] arrest of over 70 people worldwide," said Neme.

Animals are relying on some very high-tech friends half a world away to hunt down and convict the worst predators of all.

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