An Australian-built app to report and crack down on wildlife trafficking is helping authorities fight back against a surge in the illegal global trade.
Taronga Zoo’s Wildlife Witness app has generated more than 500 intelligence reports in the last year and proved so successful that it is now going global.
The app allows tourists and locals to report the illegal wildlife trade by taking a photo, recording the exact location of an incident and sending the details to TRAFFIC — a global wildlife trade monitoring network.
TRAFFIC then uses a wildlife crime data analyst to scan and compile reports for authorities.
People have used the app to report on everything from animals being sold in the pet trade, rare orchids and even ivory at markets, according to Dr Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC’s South-East Asia director.
“We can use it to not only assist with enforcement efforts, but also to better understand how the traders are working and where trade is taking place,” he said.
Dr Shepherd said the global wildlife trade was a booming business.
“It really is at a crisis level,” he said.
“But the wildlife trade has never been in the spotlight like it has in the last few years. Global leaders are speaking up and coming together to do something about it. So things are moving in the right direction. We’re just not moving fast enough.”
Taronga Zoo chief executive Cameron Kerr said some Australian animals, like echidnas, were valuable to wildlife traders, who sell them to people looking for exotic pets.
“Our own beautiful birds, echidnas and reptiles, which are so special, are under threat too. What we don’t realise is how much of our beautiful wildlife ends up in illegal trade in South-East Asia,” he said.
Unprecedented spike in illegal wildlife trade: Taronga Zoo
On average every day 96 elephants and three rhinos are killed for their body parts — and markets and shops across South-East Asia are hotspots for wildlife trade.
Taronga Zoo’s Asian Elephant bull called Gung was one of the lucky ones.
“The global ivory trade right now is wiping out elephants in pretty much all of the range countries, and annually it’s worth millions and millions of dollars,” Dr Shepherd said.
“The vast majority of ivory is coming to South-East Asia where it’s sold largely to tourists. Most of it’s just tourist junk, it’s carved into chopsticks, bracelets and little souvenirs. To think that elephants are dying so that tourists can walk away with a pendant is really tragic.”
The Wildlife Witness app was tested at Taronga Zoo — and is now going global, with promotion in zoos in the USA (San Diego Zoo Global), UK (Chester Zoo) and Singapore (Singapore Zoo).
The 7 million annual visitors to those zoos will be encouraged to download and use the app.
Mr Kerr said he believes tourists should be encouraged to join in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade.
“We can have millions of people out there, being eyes for the wild, looking out for illegal trade. If those travellers who are potentially customers of illicit items are turning around and are now proud of the fact that they’re protecting wildlife, that’s a fantastic shift,” he said.