Forensics study evokes fairy tale

RCMP have opened an investigation into three little pigs and a wolf lying dead at the landfill. At the scene, the four animals lie on their backs with their mouths wide open.

RCMP have opened an investigation into three little pigs and a wolf lying dead at the landfill.

At the scene, the four animals lie on their backs with their mouths wide open. Near the mouths sit red cups filled with liquid. It looks a bit like they’ve passed out from a night of heavy partying at the dump.

But this crime scene doesn’t reflect some twisted drunken murder-suicide take on a popular fairy tale.

It’s a joint study conducted by the RCMP, conservation officers and master’s student Katie Bygarski to learn how animals decompose in the North and which insects feed off corpses.

Because the pigs’ biology is so close to humans’, RCMP officers will use Bygarski’s findings to help them with real crime scene investigations.

The study of the wolf carcass helps wildlife conservation officers deal with poaching issues, said Bygarski.

The pigs came from a farmer and the wolf was donated by conservation officers after it had been shot.

In her brown rubber boots and blue rubber gloves, Bygarski kneels down closely to examine the pigs.

“This one’s getting tender,” she said as she pressed her fingers against the stomach. Soon the animals will rupture from the built-up gas.

“When the larvae start feeding on the abdomen, they create holes and then the gases that have built up and caused it to bloat escape from the abdomen,” said Bygarski, a student of the applied bioscience program at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

That’s what causes the rotting stench around Bygarski’s study area.

It’s a sandy patch of the landfill, beside a forest and protected by two electric fences.

“I have to deal with the smell of the pigs, but you get kind of used to that after awhile,” Bygarski said. “I spend a few hours every day outside. So the being outside part is nice, I don’t have to sit in a lab all day.”

When she bends down close to the animals, she watches the insects that crawl across the chinny chin chin, making their way into the pigs’ mouths. Flies hover over the corpses, especially the back ends.

But Bygarski is fine working with swine.

“I was pretty excited,” she said. “I didn’t know about the wolf when I found out about (the job). I did a similar study in Ontario last year so I kind of knew what to expect. I had three pigs there as well, so the pig part wasn’t a surprise.”

She expects the results of this year’s studies to be different than the Ontario research, Bygarski said, but she hasn’t begun to identify any species yet. One observation she has made, though, is that the flies here are much bigger.

She visits the site daily, but when she isn’t there to collect insects, the red plastic cups, filled with water and soap, will trap the bugs. When she returns to the site the next day, she will examine what bugs fell into these pitfalls.

“I grew up on a honey farm, so my dad keeps bees for a living,” she said. “So bugs aren’t really gross, larva aren’t really gross. I’ve seen it all before.”

Although the creepy crawlers, pigs with bug-filled mouths and the rotting wolf don’t bother Bygarski, the thought of bears creeps her out.

“I’m basically bear bait,” she said with a laugh.

Even with two electric fences around her, she still gets startled when she hears a noise.

But she braves it for the experience, she said.

“It’s a really exciting job because there hasn’t been this kind of research this far north in Canada, so it’s an initial foot-in-the-door study.”

Contact Larissa Robyn Johnston at