2021 Shortlist

#WildEye Asia: Mapping wildlife crime

Country/area: South Africa

Organisation: Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism, Internews’ Earth Journalism Network, The Third Pole, The Frontier Manipur, Haluan and Ekuatorial

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 4 Mar 2020

Credit: Fiona Macleod, James Fahn, Roxanne Joseph, Sara Schonhardt, Mark Hartman, Tristan Mathiesen, Wan Ulfa Nur Zuhra, Richa Syal and Andiswa Matikinca

Project description:

#WildEye Asia is a pioneering geo-journalism tool that provides access to data on wildlife trafficking. It maps information on seizures, arrests, court cases and convictions. The platform also hosts a dossier of investigative reporting. #WildEye Asia was created out of a sense of urgency when Covid-19 hit, and the question of what law enforcement and legal systems are doing about illegal wildlife trade became a concern for everyone. Until now, there has been no single place to access information on efforts to crack down on wildlife crime. #WildEye addresses this gap by tracking and sharing data on justice in action.

Impact reached:

We have seen significant success in making wildlife trafficking data publicly accessible. By shining a light on the scale of illegal wildlife trade taking place, we have sparked the interest of other journalists, law enforcement, and organisations monitoring and investigating wildlife crime. We have mapped over 900 incidents of seizures, arrests, court cases and convictions on the #WildEye Asia map. These span the entire continent and record information on more than 100 different endangered species. 

We have also contributed to the narrative around Covid-19 and its links to illegal wildlife trade. When the urgent need to tackle wildlife trade that is illegal, unsustainable and poses threats to human health and biodiversity conservation became apparent, resources like #WildEye highlighted the need for urgent action. 

We have formed ongoing relationships with organisations across the globe, including wildlife monitoring agency Traffic, the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, USAID, the World Wildlife Fund, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Environmental Investigation Agency, the Freeland Foundation and Investigate Earth, among others. We have also interacted with law enforcement agencies, including Interpol, the Wildlife Justice Commission and local law enforcement. 

A total of 16 in-depth, data-driven investigations have been published in China, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Indonesia and Vietnam. These have been viewed and shared, along with the #WildEye map, hundreds of thousands of times. Topics include Chinese courts’ leniency towards pangolin offenders; insurgents linked to India’s rhino poaching syndicates; traditional Chinese medicine in wildlife; and using new Indonesian law to nab wildlife smugglers. 

We have also hosted eight webinars between May and December 2020, with a total of 416 participants from all over the world. These included training on how and why to use #WildEye; investigating wildlife trafficking and conservation reporting; digitisation for anti-corruption and Covid-19 and the environmental crisis. These webinars are available on #WildEye.

Techniques/technologies used:

#WildEye Asia was built by developers using an open-source platform called Mapbox. This was customised to fit in with Oxpeckers’ style, and to suit our needs as data journalists. 

#WildEye Asia’s main feature is a map of the continent showing where law enforcement agencies and legal systems have been involved in action against wildlife trafficking. Each case is identified by an icon that signifies either a seizure, an arrest, a court case or a conviction. 

The tool includes a search function to help users filter information and find topics of interest. If you want to learn about the illegal trade of pangolin scales, for instance, simply type “pangolin” or “scales” in the search box and you will get a host of results covering incidents involving pangolin scale smuggling. 

We also have an alert system, which allows users to subscribe to receive updates on either an area or a specific case. Each time the data is updated, you will receive an email with this information. Use the buttons to subscribe and unsubscribe on the map. This way, you do not need to search manually for updated information, and can rely on #WildEye to do this for you. 

Data is uploaded on Mapbox via a Google spreadsheet that is updated on a weekly basis, sometimes more frequently. Methods of data collection range from scraping social media and news sites to working with reports and datasets provided by monitoring organisations. We convert bulky reports and complex datasets into spreadsheets that can be analysed and added to #WildEye. By engaging with organisations such as Traffic, the Wildlife Justice Commission, the Environmental Investigation Agency, the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, the Environmental Reporting Collective and the Indonesian Data Journalism Network, we have been able to access some of this data more easily.

What was the hardest part of this project?

Our biggest challenge has always been accessing data, mainly because #WildEye is the first platform to collect, collate, analyse and make public data on legal processes relating to illicit wildlife trade in Asia. 

We always knew that we were creating a tool that maps and makes the data public, but quickly came to understand why we were doing this when we hit multiple roadblocks and had to fight to get that information – in some cases, the fight isn’t even nearly over. 

This is what led us to working so closely with local journalists and locally-based monitoring organisations. These people and the work they do are crucial to our understanding, involvement and accessing of often sensitive information. We have worked with over a dozen locally-based journalists to produce data-driven investigations that highlight issues related to wildlife trafficking in China, Indonesia, India, Nepal and Vietnam. 

What can others learn from this project?

#WildEye is a fantastic customisation of open-source technology, which we hope encourages others – especially journalists – to test similar methods of creating, collating and visualizing large datasets of their own. We have been vocal about the challenges we faced throughout the creation of this tool during in-person interactions, on panels and in webinars, and hope that others learn from our experiences. Making important data sets look good and easily accessible does not have to be difficult, and #WildEye is a prime example of this, within the context of data journalism. We have also shown how to turn data into a compelling and important environmental story. By training journalists how to work the tool, we have published numerous investigations that use #WildEye data to tell their stories, lending our voice to issues around the law, health, safety, corruption and illicit financial flow. We see these stories as demonstrating what newsworthy and good quality data journalism looks like.

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