Wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest black market in the world (behind drugs, weapons and human trafficking) with the total trade worth $19 billion a year. The affect on the targeted animal species has been horrific.
It's estimated that 100 elephants are poached every day for their tusks and more than 1,000 rhinos are killed every year for their horns, meaning both could be extinct within the next decade or two. Other animals like tigers, snakes, pangolins and turtles have suffered major population loss thanks to poaching for their skins, hides, bile and more.
While there are wonderful organizations doing what they can to crack down on the poaching and selling of these animals, there are many people like you and me who want to contribute to the fight, too. Australia’s Taronga Zoo and TRAFFIC, the international wildlife trade monitoring network have created an app that lets us do our part.
Called Wildlife Witness, the app lets users submit information and photos of any suspected hunting, trapping or selling of endangered animals by pinning the incident to a virtual map. The submission then gets forwarded to wildlife authorities who will investigate it.
The app basically lets wildlife authorities increase the eyes and ears they have watching and listening for these crimes. Anyone who travels to Southeast Asia and Australia, where wildlife trafficking is a huge problem, can lend their senses and their smartphones to the cause.
The app is being promoted in the U.S. by the San Diego Zoo Global, informing people who visit zoos about the problem and what they can do to help when they travel.
"It’s an app for people to have an action component to conservation right in their back pocket," says Suzanne Hall, a research coordinator with the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research to FastCoExist. "We want to make everyone aware that this is out there so that when you travel you can participate in trying to put an end to wildlife crime."
The app was released in May and has already had over 1,000 reports of suspicious activity that are being used by officials to create a map of trading hotspots. There has been action taken against at least 500 people thanks to tips from the app. The app actually helped authorities realize that a particular animal that they hadn't been watching out for, the robust earless monitor lizard, was becoming a popular species in the trade. The reptile is protected in its home of Malaysia.
The app educates people as well as letting them make reports. There is a tab that explains the animals typically targeted and what to look out for and a way to see if other users are reporting crimes in the same area. If criminal activity is seen, users can click "Make a Report" and then choose from a drop-down list of options like endangered animals on a restaurant menu, illegal animal products in a store or the viewing of a wildlife crime in action. The report is then geo-tagged so that investigators know exactly where to go.
The San Diego Zoo hopes to have a U.S. version of the app soon as well to help crack down on poaching and the trading of illegal wildlife items in the states and to help travelers keep an eye out when they're abroad.