Welcome to Wildleaks: a new website that aims to give the global public a secure and anonymous platform to report wildlife trafficking and illegal deforestation. The illegal wildlife trade has become one of the world’s largest criminal activities in recent years, decimating elephants, rhinos, tigers, primates, and thousands of lesser known species. Meanwhile, illegal logging is rampant in many parts of the world, imperiling biodiversity, undercutting locals, and robbing governments of revenue. Yet, effectively tackling these crimes remains a relatively low priority for many of the world’s governments and prosecuting wildlife and logging kingpins is a rarity.
“Wildlife crimes very often go undetected and unchallenged when people do not speak up about them, and whistleblowers can play a crucial role in fighting back, creating awareness and supporting justice,” said Andrea Crosta, co-Founder of the Elephant Action League and project leader of the new whistleblower site.
The Elephant Action League has headed the creation of the new site, which allows anyone from anywhere to submit documents, video, or images relating to wildlife or forest crimes. Users are able to submit such items anonymously and choose from two levels of encryption. Security is especially important given that in many cases wildlife and forest crimes involve local corruption by government employees or other officials.
Project Rhino memorial to rhinos killed by poachers in South Africa. Photo by: Shaz Lock/Creative Commons 3.0.
“Our first priority is to facilitate the identification of criminals and corrupt governmental officials behind the poaching and trafficking of endangered species such as ivory, rhino horn, big cats, apes, pangolins and birds, as well as forest products,” added Crosta. “But we also put a lot of effort into protecting the people who chose to send us information, not only by providing a state-of-the-art secure system but also by managing and using the information in the correct way.”
After Wildleaks receives the documents, it will act in various ways depending on the information.
“We [will] work to transform this information into a verified and actionable item, a point for launching an investigation or sharing it with the media or, when possible, with selected and trusted law enforcement officers, always aiming at exposing wildlife crimes and bringing the responsible individuals to justice,” said Crosta.
Last year over 1,000 rhinos were slaughtered for their horns in South Africa alone by poachers, while conservationists estimate that 22,000-35,000 elephants were killed in Africa in 2012. Estimates on the number of poached big cats, primates, and thousands of other species of mammals, birds and marine animals are harder to come by, but evidence points to a global epidemic. Meanwhile, illegal logging has been estimated to be worth $30-$100 billion worldwide, and accounts for 10-30 percent of deforestation in the tropics. Wildlife trafficking and illegal logging often occur in tandem, and both have been linked to other criminal activities, such as drugs, arms smuggling, and human trafficking.
Governments are beginning to respond, albeit sluggishly and many years late. Several governments have burned their ivory stockpiles in recent years and notched up rhetoric against the wildlife trade. Many have already, or are currently mulling, strengthening laws and increasing the severity of punishments. A recent summit in London on the trade produced a 46-country agreement for stronger international action against wildlife crimes. Meanwhile, new laws in the U.S., the EU, and Australia have been launched in order to curb illegal logging abroad, while some countries—such as Brazil—have moved aggressively to tackle deforestation.
(02/12/2014) Forest elephants have suffered unprecedented butchery for their ivory tusks over the past decade, according to new numbers released by conservationists today in London. Sixty-five percent of the world’s forest elephants have been slaughtered by poachers over the last dozen years, with poachers killing an astounding nine percent of the population annually. Lesser-known than their savannah cousins, a genetics study in 2010 found that forest elephants are in fact a distinct species, as far removed from savannah elephants as Asian elephants are from mammoths. These findings make the forest elephant crisis even more urgent.
(02/12/2014) Yesterday, the Obama administration announced an ambitious new strategy to help tackle the global illegal wildlife trade, including a near-complete ban on commercial ivory. The new strategy will not only push over a dozen federal agencies to make fighting wildlife trafficking a new priority, but will also focus on reducing demand for wildlife parts and actively engaging the international community. The U.S. is the world’s second largest destination for illegal wildlife trafficking after China.
(01/24/2014) The government of Hong Kong will destroy 28 tons of ivory confiscated from traffickers, reports CNN. The announcement, which comes just weeks after China destroyed six tons of seized ivory, suggests that the leaders of the world’s largest market for ivory may be getting more serious about addressing a global poaching boom, say conservationists.
(01/21/2014) The annual dolphin hunt in Taiji, Japan ended on Monday with dozens being slaughtered for meat and captured for sale to amusement parks, reports Sea Shepherd, an ocean activist group that campaigns against the practice and just released photos documenting the weekend’s harvest.
(01/17/2014) In another sign that Africa’s poaching crisis has gotten completely out of control, South Africa lost 1,004 rhinos to poachers last year. According to the numbers released today by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, 2013 was the worst year yet for rhino poaching in the country with more than 3 rhinos killed every day.
(01/12/2014) Police in Indonesia’s Aceh province have arrested two wildlife trafficking suspects allegedly behind five tiger poaching rings operating in the forests of northern Sumatra. The arrests followed a months-long investigation and an undercover sting operation in which police seized thousands of dollars worth of illegal animal parts.
(01/06/2014) China authorities destroyed 6.1 tons of illegal ivory during a public event held in Guangzhou on Monday.
(12/20/2013) A newspaper story about the impact of the ivory trade has gone viral in China, raising awareness among millions of Chinese, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The story, published November 15 in Southern Weekly, has been shared widely across Chinese web sites and social media.
(12/04/2013) Beginning next year, light planes and helicopters will undertake the first ever continent-wide aerial survey of Africa’s vanishing elephant populations. The hugely ambitious initiative, which will count elephant herds in 13 countries, is being funded by Microsoft founder, Paul Allen, through his Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.
(12/02/2013) As the African Elephant Summit open in Botswana today, conservationists released a new estimate of the number of African elephants lost to the guns of poachers last year: 22,000. Some 15,000 elephants killed in 42 sites across 27 countries on the continent, according to newly released data from the CITES program, Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE). But conservationists estimate another 7,000 went unreported. The number killed is a slight decrease over 2011 numbers of 25,000.
(10/29/2013) A new public-service campaign in China will ask potential ivory and rhino horn buyers to see the victims of these illicit trades in a new light: as the “pandas of Africa.” The posters are a part of WildAid’s ‘Say No to Ivory and Rhino Horn’ campaign, which was launched earlier in the year.
(10/29/2013) 790 rhinos have been poached in South Africa this year, nearly a fifth higher than last year’s record toll, reports the Department of Environmental Affairs.
(10/28/2013) A military court in Indonesia’s Aceh province has jailed two soldiers for illegally possessing two stuffed Sumatran tigers (Pathera tigris sumatrae) and a stuffed sun bear (Helarctos malayanus), a rare verdict in the Sumatran province where crimes involving wildlife are seldom prosecuted.