New digital tools to track illegal wildlife trade online – Horizon Magazine Blog

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Criminals can be resourceful and fierce in their efforts to find a way around obstacles. Wildlife traffickers are no exception. Current trade in wildlife and wildlife products has shifted from physical markets to online markets where traffickers apply e-commerce business models and use encrypted messages in an attempt to evade detection by law enforcement forces. order.

While the shift to online platforms began several years before the Covid-19 pandemic, restrictions imposed to contain the virus have accelerated this digital transformation. According to Interpol, traffickers advertise and sell wildlife products through social media platforms. Having access to a large international market and following the same routes as other crimes such as drug and arms smuggling, wildlife crime is increasing at 5-7% per year, two to three times the rate. growth of the world economy.

“The information available to investigate illegal wildlife trade is often incomplete or missing. As such, we cannot get the full picture, ”said Enrico Di Minin, associate professor of conservation geography at the University of Helsinki in Finland, where he heads the Helsinki Laboratory of Interdisciplinary Science of the conversation. “Since 2015, when the illegal wildlife trade started to move more and more into digital markets, I started investigating the wildlife trade from digital platforms. “

This is how the concept of WILD TRADE was born – to quantify global patterns and trends in illegal wildlife trade and to study how market forces shape them. The idea is to use big data pulled from social media platforms in combination with machine learning methods and data collected from online surveys and literature reviews to identify which wildlife species and products are marketed online and what are the motives behind the trade. The findings will also help Di Minin and his research team identify global hot spots and the global flow of goods.

Data collection, codes and digital platforms

“The innovation of using machine learning methods is that we are able to automatically identify data for many digital platforms and for many species and products at the same time without needing to manually browse through that content.” , said Di Minin, who will address the issue IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France, on September 5.

“The innovation of using machine learning methods is that we are able to automatically identify relevant data from many digital platforms and for many species and products at the same time. “

Enrico Di Minin, Associate Professor of Conservation Geography at the University of Helsinki in Finland

Data collection complies with privacy and data protection regulations and therefore can no longer be traced to a specific person.

Di Minin’s interdisciplinary team of computer scientists and social scientists sift through the flow of data using machine learning algorithms. “By filtering and analyzing the data, we can provide new information on trade hot spots, quantities traded and prices. These are aspects that are still poorly understood at the global level, ”said Di Minin. “We are also particularly interested in how scarcity – the rarity of a species in the market or in the wild – affects the preferences of people who use these products.

“We are also particularly interested in how scarcity – the rarity of a species in the market or in the wild – affects the preferences of people who use these products. “

Enrico Di Minin, Associate Professor of Conservation Geography at the University of Helsinki in Finland

Southeast Asia is one of the areas on which researchers are focusing their attention. “In a recent study, we investigated the online songbird market in Indonesia, where the breeding of pet songbirds has strong cultural traditions. We found that online commerce was not limited to big cities but spread across the country. We also found that the prices in online marketplaces were significantly higher than the prices quoted in consumer surveys, ”explained Di Minin.

Presentation of illegal wildlife trade as a threat to global security

Examining the data online can tell a much bigger story than the impact on wildlife, revealing the complex reasons people are dragged into poaching and trafficking, such as poverty and poor governance. It also highlights the different actors involved and the challenges they present, including the threat to livelihoods, national security and even global stability.

One of the outcomes of the idea that the illegal wildlife trade is driven by criminals, organized crime networks and occult groups operating outside the law is the growing integration of conservation and security. . Professor Rosaleen Duffy of the University of Sheffield coordinated the project BIOSEC, which highlighted the possible harm to wildlife and people by presenting the trade as a crime and a safety concern. She warns that this approach may mask some of the underlying drivers of the illegal wildlife trade, such as demand from the world’s wealthiest communities.

“It is important to determine why some people continue to engage in illegal hunting,” said Professor Duffy. “Maybe it’s because they don’t have other opportunities or because they don’t recognize the legitimacy of colonial laws that prohibit the access or use of wildlife in the area. By focusing on the relationship between nature and society, these omissions and blind spots are revealed, highlighting how they shape and change conservation policy. ‘

“After all, it’s these blind spots and omissions that ultimately result in ineffective and socially unfair policy making, which affects both environmentalists and people living with wildlife,” Duffy added.

On the ground, this means gaining a better understanding of the complexity of threats to wildlife, such as elephants, and designing effective and socially just conservation solutions. This requires knowledge of conservation biology, development studies, international politics and economics. “For example, our research on ivory demand reduction used critical race theory to uncover and understand the often racist underpinnings of demand reduction campaigns by NGOs targeting Asian ivory markets. “said Duffy. “We called for more culturally nuanced and effective campaigns that positively interact with consumers.”

“Our ivory demand reduction research used critical race theory to uncover and understand the often racist underpinnings of NGO demand reduction campaigns targeting Asian ivory markets. “

Professor Rosaleen Duffy of the University of Sheffield

The job also focused on European species neglected in debates on illegal wildlife trade: songbirds, timber and caviar. “It is often assumed that the illegal wildlife trade is a ‘problem’ for Asia and Africa – which ignores Europe’s role as source, consumer and transit region. “

This article originally appeared in Horizon, the European magazine for research and innovation.



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