What if technology could help us stop poaching before it happened?
All of us concerned about the devastating number of elephants killed for ivory celebrate when a major wildlife trafficker is arrested like Emile N'Bouke, a West African ivory kingpin who has captured last year. It is estimated that he was responsible from some 10,000 elephant deaths. Prosecuting him to the full extent of the law is critical to deterring elephant poaching.
But we do not want to wait to seize criminals with ivory after the elephants are gone. There must be a way to identify and capture the criminals before they kill elephants.
Conservationists, military personnel, and techies are actually collaborating on drone use, satellite imagery, and complex analytical modeling to make this idea - once only in the realm of science fiction - a reality.
On March 16, H.E. Prof. Judi Wakhungu, Cabinet Secretary, Kenya Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources announced a unique partnership between Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and IFAW designed to protect elephants by stopping poaching before it happens. Read more about it in our press release.
More than a year has passed since the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) released our report Criminal Nature, detailing the links between illegal wildlife trade, criminal syndicates and terrorism.
Many references have been made to this seminal report's findings, and most recently, I was quoted in a story titled " Can Intelligence Community Tools and Practices Help Stop Poaching in Africa?" for Trajectory magazine, a publication of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) an organization promoting geospatial intelligence.
The question this article poses is an important one: can intelligence community tools and practices help stop poaching in Africa?
They have to.
Since the poaching threat is now universally accepted to be a dangerous violent crime linked to weapons, drugs and human trafficking, a collective movement is underway now to identify ways to use military and intelligence tactics to fight wildlife crime syndicates.
Poachers are increasingly engaged with the global trafficking syndicates and illegal financial networks that are moving the ivory and other products around the world to where the demand and markets are strongest. Local authorities are woefully outmatched and literally outgunned when they go up against sophisticated syndicates.
If the international community of government agencies, authorities like INTERPOL, and stakeholder organizations like us sat idly by, these syndicates would overrun parts of Africa and establish networks that would ultimately be so entrenched that even strong and swift military solutions would be unable to quell its deadly operations.
With the help of military experts and security intelligence partners, we are developing strategies to fight criminal networks with stronger enforcement networks, to counter poaching technology with smarter anti-poaching technology.