Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge

Photo Credit: WCS/Mark Atkinson
About the Problem

Wildlife trafficking is a threat to nature, security, and development

Poaching and the illegal wildlife trade have far-reaching ecological, national security, and economic consequences that are undermining decades of conservation and development gains. The black market for illegal wildlife products is worth an estimated $19 billion a year in value. Surging consumer demand has pushed market prices to record levels at a time when the internet provides an ideal marketplace—anonymous, lightly regulated, always "on"—for the buying and selling of illegal wildlife products.

Wildlife trafficking is pushing many animals, including species of elephants, tigers, rhinos, pangolins, turtles, sharks, and parrots, towards extinction. The illegal ivory trade increased by nearly 300 percent from 1998 to 2011. Even more dramatically, the number of rhinos poached annually increased more than 9000 percent from 13 in 2007 to a staggering 1,215 in 2014.

Wildlife and wildlife parts are primarily consumed both legally and illegally as:

  • exotic pets (geckos, parrots, aquarium fish, tigers, turtles)
  • trophies (whole mounts, hides, claws, teeth)
  • luxury items and souvenirs (furs, turtle shells, coral jewelry, ivory trinkets, leather clothing)
  • religious and cultural items (ivory carvings, beak carvings, feathers, claws, teeth, horns)
  • food (shark-fin soup , sea turtle and fish eggs, meat)
  • medicine (bear gallbladders, rhino horn, tiger bone)

The illegal trade in wildlife also undermines national security and economic development. Wildlife trafficking offers greater profit and lower risk of detection and prosecution than other forms of illicit trade, and has attracted transnational criminal networks, some with ties to forced labor and human trafficking. Heavily armed poachers and sophisticated criminal syndicates exploit limited law-enforcement capacity and corrupt officials with bribes and other favors, particularly in less stable or secure economies. In many parts of the world, wildlife tourism contributes significantly to national economies and is particularly important for communities that live in close proximity to wildlife. Traffickers steal the livelihoods of families that depend on tourism revenues and natural resources, and expose them to the hardened, dangerous criminals operating in their communities.

How the U.S. Government is Taking Action

How Science and Technology Can Help