Wildlife trafficking is a threat to nature, security, and development
Poaching and the illegal wildlife trade have far-reaching ecological, national security, and economic consequences that are undermining decades of conservation and development gains. The black market for illegal wildlife products is worth an estimated $19 billion a year in value. Surging consumer demand has pushed market prices to record levels at a time when the internet provides an ideal marketplace—anonymous, lightly regulated, always "on"—for the buying and selling of illegal wildlife products.
Wildlife trafficking is pushing many animals, including species of elephants, tigers, rhinos, pangolins, turtles, sharks, and parrots, towards extinction. The illegal ivory trade increased by nearly 300 percent from 1998 to 2011. Even more dramatically, the number of rhinos poached annually increased more than 9000 percent from 13 in 2007 to a staggering 1,215 in 2014.
Wildlife and wildlife parts are primarily consumed both legally and illegally as:
- exotic pets (geckos, parrots, aquarium fish, tigers, turtles)
- trophies (whole mounts, hides, claws, teeth)
- luxury items and souvenirs (furs, turtle shells, coral jewelry, ivory trinkets, leather clothing)
- religious and cultural items (ivory carvings, beak carvings, feathers, claws, teeth, horns)
- food (shark-fin soup , sea turtle and fish eggs, meat)
- medicine (bear gallbladders, rhino horn, tiger bone)
The illegal trade in wildlife also undermines national security and economic development. Wildlife trafficking offers greater profit and lower risk of detection and prosecution than other forms of illicit trade, and has attracted transnational criminal networks, some with ties to forced labor and human trafficking. Heavily armed poachers and sophisticated criminal syndicates exploit limited law-enforcement capacity and corrupt officials with bribes and other favors, particularly in less stable or secure economies. In many parts of the world, wildlife tourism contributes significantly to national economies and is particularly important for communities that live in close proximity to wildlife. Traffickers steal the livelihoods of families that depend on tourism revenues and natural resources, and expose them to the hardened, dangerous criminals operating in their communities.
The National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, released on February 11, 2014, sets out a robust, comprehensive approach that focuses on key strategic priorities to stop wildlife trafficking. The agencies that comprise the Task Force, including USAID, are cooperating closely to achieve the National Strategy’s objectives. On the first anniversary of its release, the Task Force unveiled an Implementation Plan for the Strategy, which details the next steps that the United States will take to combat wildlife trafficking. This Implementation Plan builds upon the Strategy and reaffirms the US commitment to work in partnership with governments, law enforcement, local communities, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to stem the illegal trade in wildlife and combat the security threats it poses. In particular, the Implementation Plan encourages the development of innovative approaches to combating wildlife crime, and specifically mentions the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge as a key step in achieving this objective.
On October 6, 2016, President Obama signed into law the bi-partisan Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act, enshrining the above-mentioned Task Force, Executive Order, Strategy, and Implementation Plan in US legislation. The END Act commits the US to building on the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking and its Implementation Plan, taking immediate action to stop the illegal wildlife trade, strengthening the capacity of international stakeholders to fight wildlife poaching and trafficking (e.g. using forensic or transparency/anti-corruption tools), and dismantling wildlife trade and associated organized crime networks.
Wildlife trafficking has emerged as one of USAID’s highest conservation priorities because it undermines conservation achievements, economic prospects, and security. USAID works directly with wildlife rangers, airline employees, customs agents, and others to address the illegal wildlife trade. The Agency has increased its support to address this crisis, with up to $67 million invested in fiscal year 2015 in the first line of defense against poachers and traffickers, bolstering community conservation, reducing demand for wildlife products, and developing innovative solutions. Through the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, USAID is playing a key role in implementing the President’s strategy by supporting the development of innovative technologies to aid enforcement efforts.
Resources for general information on wildlife trafficking include:
- Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act
- USAID Efforts to Conserve Biodiversity and Forests
- National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking and Implementation Plan
- Presidential Memorandum: Establishing a Comprehensive Framework to Combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud
- United States Fish & Wildlife Service: Wildlife Trafficking
- Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytic Toolkit
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Global Program for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime (GP)
- Year in Review: Highlights from Implementing the U.S. National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing
- The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC)
- Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking (CAWT)
- United for Wildlife
- World Ocean Review
- Fisheries and Aquaculture Department (FAO) and its Role in Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing
- Global Environment Facility (GEF) and its Role in Combating Poaching and Illegal Wildlife Trade
- The World Bank and the Smithsonian: A Future for Wildlife Tigers
- IFAW: Wanted – Dead or Alive: Exposing Online Wildlife Trade
- TRAFFIC Workshop Report: Countering Illegal Wildlife Trade: Collaborative Actions Along Transportation and Supply Chains
- UNODC: Criminal Justice Response to Wildlife and Forest Crime in Cambodia
- London Declaration on the Illegal Wildlife Trade: Review of Progress
- International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea: Tribunal Delivers Its Advisory Opinion Regarding Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Activities
- UNEP: Experts’ Background Report on Illegal Exploitation and Trade in Natural Resources Benefitting Organized Criminal Groups and Recommendations on MONUSCO’s Role in Fostering Stability and Peace in Eastern DR Congo
To learn how various science and technology solutions may be applicable to combating wildlife trafficking, please see the examples below. These broad categories are not meant to be exhaustive nor to suggest specific solutions the Challenge is looking for. They are purely illustrative, and intended to help innovators better understand whether and how their discipline relates to the four wildlife-trafficking issue areas of the Challenge.
Examples:• Tools that can compile and analyze large amounts of data and identify patterns and trends
• Tools that allow real-time remote monitoring of known sources of illegal wildlife
- Affordable yet accurate tools that facilitate more comprehensive inspections at critical control points and improve the capacity to identify organic matter
- Systems that improve the ability to verify the legality of wildlife parts that are traded legally
- Games designed to deter consumption of illegal wildlife parts and change the norms that influence demand
- Games that educate players about the scale, consequences and illegality of wildlife trafficking
Relevant Challenge issues: Strengthening Forensic Evidence
- Comprehensive DNA reference databases
- Technologies that can cheaply and easily identify cellular or other "signatures" tied to a specific species
- Technologies that improve the detection of online transactions involving illegal wildlife products through “deep learning” and big data analytics that rely on pattern recognition
- "Bot" technologies that can simulate online buyers of illegal wildlife and enable law enforcement to identify traffickers on an ongoing basis
- Technologies and tools that enable monitoring of law enforcement and other officials while they are on duty
- Tools that enhance understanding of corruption; better knowledge of patterns of corruption at critical control points could help law enforcement narrow its focus and improve efficiency in the deployment of resources
- Desktop applications and interfaces that leverage crowdsourced information to interdict smuggled wildlife or facilitate arrests
- Mobile applications that enable users to determine if a product is illegally trafficked or sustainably harvested, and whether its consumption is likely to be the result of illegal or harmful practices
- Mobile applications that enable anonymous whistleblowing related to corruption or poaching or other illegal wildlife trafficking activity