NEW YORK (November 10, 2014) – Stopping Wildlife Crime? There’s an APP for that. According to a new publication from the Wildlife Conservation Society, new mobile applications and web-based formats are providing authorities with speedy access to information on hundreds of protected species, chats with online enforcement experts, and other resources used to identify and prosecute wildlife crime.

“Law enforcement officials often have only a few minutes to decide whether or not to let an item through a checkpoint. These tools provide a quick check for individuals with no background in biology,” said lead author Dr. Heidi Kretser.

The scientists use a decision-tree style approach in developing these systems wherein the user inputs data and through a process of elimination, identifies or classifies the traded wildlife or wildlife products. The tools are quick, reliable and can be used with little training.

The report discusses three case studies where this technology is being tested and reports on initial impressions and opportunities:

China is the largest demand market for many species of wildlife globally and this market has rapidly increased due to its recent economic development.

“Wildlife Guardian” is a mobile-phone based application used for the identification of animals and animal products in China. Launched initially in 2011, the app has strong support from the CITES Management Authority of China, Anti-smuggling Bureau of China Customs and China Wildlife Conservation Association. It provides a platform that allows users to identify 475 species by selecting the correct match for up to five body parts or features, and provides the user with guidelines to identify wildlife products from ivory to big cat claws. More than 300 law enforcement officials who tested the app considered it “useful” or “very useful” in follow-up surveys. To date, more than 1,173 users have installed the software on iOS systems. An Android version in Chinese and English was launched in September 2014.

Wildlife trafficking in Vietnam is fueled by a growing demand that is helping to drive certain species towards extinction throughout Southeast Asia. Vietnam is both a market in itself, and also a transit country for much wildlife going to China, Wildlife crime law enforcement in the country is considered weak.

In 2012, Vietnam’s first wildlife identification tool, was launched to provide species and legal information to authorities to support detection and prosecution of wildlife crimes. The website includes step-by-step, visually-aided guidelines to help users identify 152 protected wildlife species in Vietnam and a number of commonly traded products taken from endangered wildlife such as rhino horn, elephant ivory and tiger body parts. Access to instant online support is also provided.

As of August 2014, the site has had over 8,599 views, and more than 300 personnel from Customs, the Forest Protection Department, and the Environmental Police have registered on the site. WCS has secured the collaboration and endorsement of eight key government agencies to promote the website.

Finally, WCS has been providing training to United States military police on products made from illegally traded wildlife found on bases in foreign lands where military personnel and contractors work. Previous WCS studies indicated that more than 40 percent of military returning from oversees service had either purchased or seen other military personnel purchasing wildlife products. While WCS has provided training to military police in Afghanistan and at US bases, frequent turnover of personnel reduces effectiveness of this training.

“Wildlife Alert,” a mobile app funded by the Department of Defense Legacy Program is an app under construction for U.S. military police and will be piloted in Afghanistan. Since smartphones are being used increasingly in the U.S. military special operations, their use is feasible for this application.

Co-author Peter Zahler, WCS Asia Program Deputy Director, points out that mobile apps have an advantage of over web-based programs in that the user does not need an internet connection in remote areas such as protected areas or parks. “Information on where illegal wildlife and wildlife products are sold or detected can then be shared with larger Wildlife Enforcement monitoring systems and help disrupt supply chains for transnational wildlife crime.”

“Mobile decision-tree tool technology as a means to detect wildlife crimes and build enforcement networks,” appears currently online in the journal Biological Conservation.

Authors include Heidi E. Kretser, Ramacandra Wong, Scott Roberton, Carrianne Pershyn, JianMing Huang, Fuping Sun, Aili Kang, and Peter Zahler, all of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Scott Smith – 718-220-3698;
Stephen Sautner – 718-220-3682;
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)
MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. VISION: WCS envisions a world where wildlife thrives in healthy lands and seas, valued by societies that embrace and benefit from the diversity and integrity of life on earth. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in more than 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: Follow: @thewcs.