The illegal wildlife trade poses severe threats to biodiversity and is a growing challenge for countries around the globe. That’s one of the main reasons the Earth Journalism Network has launched an investigative reporting project on the issue.
EJN launched the project in May, and have been working with investigative journalists in Europe to plan individual reporting projects. Last month, we held a convening with our partners in London, where grantees and EJN staff had the opportunity to attend two separate conferences focused on wildlife trafficking.
Tigers at the London Zoo / Credit: Sara Schonhardt
At the first, on Oct. 9, hundreds of experts from around the world gathered to discuss collaboration and explore ways science and evidence-based research can inform policy decisions aimed at curbing the illegal trafficking of species, a trade worth an estimated $23 billion annually, according to Dominic Jermey, head of the Zoological Society of London, which hosted the conference.
In this story, Sara Schonhardt and James Fahn explore some of the takeaways from that gathering, which included panels addressing militarization and conservation and ways to tackle cyber-enabled wildlife crimes. It also featured useful tools that researchers, journalists and activists can use, such as Legal Atlas, an online compendium of laws related to wildlife trafficking, and closed with a discussion on how the media can close the divide between policy and research.
The UK government hosted a separate conference later in the week where the Duke of Cambridge launched a US$4.5 million (3.5 million pound) initiative to crack down on financial crimes associated with the illegal wildlife trade. Comprised of representatives from 30 global banks, financial organizations and agencies and regulatory bodies, the wildlife financial taskforce will support investigations of money laundering and tax evasion to disrupt criminal networks and target high-ranking bosses.
EJN Project Director Mike Shanahan explains how wildlife trafficking is, at its core, a criminal problem that requires deep intelligence to tackle.
Other efforts to curb the illegal trade in species were also explored during the week, but as Shanahan writes, those intentions can lead to more harm than good if not designed correctly. Data presented at the Oct. 9 conference, for example, showed that conservationists are not collecting and sharing enough evidence of what works and why. That matters because the lack of evidence leads to a focus on big mammals, such as elephants and tigers, and not on less dynamic species, such as fish reptiles and plants, that are trafficked in far greater volumes.
It also puts attention on wildlife products from Africa and consumers in Asia while ignoring the growing importance of wildlife trafficking from Latin America and the rising roles of Europe as both a transit hub and a market for illicit products.
That’s something EJN’s Investigative Wildlife Trafficking project is targeting.
At the end of the week, reporters working with EJN to produce investigative reports on this issue gathered to brainstorm story ideas and discuss an open-source tool that we’re supporting our partner organization Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism to develop that will seek to map seizures, arrests, prosecutions and convictions related to wildlife crime.
National Geographic reporter Rachael Bale joined the group to talk about some best practices for covering this difficult issue.