Wildlife 'WikiLeaks' targets poaching elite

26 August 2014 - 02:06 By AFP
The rhino in the Mthetomusha game reserve have been ear-notched and were dehorned as part of anti-poaching efforts. The small horn has since grown back a little.
The rhino in the Mthetomusha game reserve have been ear-notched and were dehorned as part of anti-poaching efforts. The small horn has since grown back a little.
Image: Reuben Goldberg

Poachers slaughtering Africa's elephants and rhinos with impunity are often shielded from the police by powerful connections.

Now a group of conservationists is exploiting anonymous tip-offs to try to stem the killings.

The founders of WildLeaks - a sort of conservationist WikiLeaks - say it is the first secure, online whistle-blowing platform dedicated to wildlife and forest crime.

The project is targeting the top-end traffickers who cream off millions of dollars.

"We got, for example, a very interesting leak on a very powerful individual in Kenya, linked to the government, who is behind the ivory trade," said founder Andrea Crosta. This kind of person "will never be taken out from within - they're too powerful. You need help from outside. So right now, we're trying to gather more evidence."

Poaching has risen sharply across Africa in recent years, fuelled by rising demand in Asia for ivory and rhino horn, coveted as a traditional medicine and as a status symbol.

Crosta is fervent in his belief that the online platform can be part of the war against poaching.

Launched in February, WildLeaks has received more than 45 tips and leaks, with at least 28 thought likely to be useful.

WildLeaks passes on some tips to law enforcement agencies. Others are shared with trusted conservation organisations. Some were investigated in-house.

Two WildLeaks investigations have already been launched, and work on two others is expected to begin next month.

"This appears to be a new approach to wildlife crime," said Richard Thomas, of Traffic, the world's leading wildlife trade monitoring network.

"It will prove its worth if useful information is received and passed on to professional enforcement agencies."

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