Can big data put a stop to illegal wildlife trafficking?
Like just about any topic in politics these days, President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has its supporters and its skeptics. But on Earth Day in 2015 the White House released photos of ten animals that the TPP will help protect from the growing incidences of illegal wildlife trafficking. And who can resist the face of a leaf-eating langur?
Illegal wildlife trafficking is rampant and is typically perpetrated by very sophisticated organized crime rings who are just as likely to be dealing in weapons or drugs. Given loose laws around wildlife trafficking—yet equal or even higher payoffs for criminals—this type of environmental crime is on the rise. According to the World Wildlife Organization, rhino poaching in South Africa alone rose 7,700 percent from 2007–2013.
You may not think of analytics as a means to thwart wildlife trafficking, but the IBM i2 technology has been used by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) in the UK for years in its efforts to apply intelligence as part of its mission to protect the environment. The EIA recently documented its investigation into the illegal hunting and trading of endangered fin whales in Iceland in the report, Slayed in Iceland. National Geographic also published an article, Big Data and Analytics Helping to Protect Big Cats, that explained how the EIA is using big data to help protect endangered tigers in Asia.
IBM tools can help organizations such as the EIA protect against these heinous crimes by allowing them to analyze large data sets, visualize flexible organized criminal rings and understand the crime rings' social networks and other possible ties. These tools give investigators a comprehensive picture of key criminal players and their prioritized targets.
Illegal wildlife trafficking isn’t just a topic for Earth Day. I am pleased to see that it is gaining awareness because we can’t protect precious creatures like Andean mountain cats if we don’t know they are at risk.