The illegal trade of wildlife products is estimated to be worth billions of US dollars annually. Increasingly, dealers and consumers are turning to Internet social media and e-commerce platforms to illegally sell and purchase live exotic animals. Live great apes, in particular, fall victim to illegal Internet trade. Over 6,000 live great apes have been trafficked from the wild since 2005, and a further 30,000 have died in capture-related activities. Internet social media and e-commerce websites facilitate this trade. Researchers have identified over 100 sites displaying illegally traded great apes and have manually searched millions of social media photographs for evidence of live chimp trafficking. However this method is cumbersome and prone to error, as many chimps are similar in appearance, making them susceptible to misidentification and/or double counting. Furthermore, many captive chimps are not reflected in official records (CITES documentation, stud books, etc.), making it nearly impossible to determine captive population numbers and track when chimps are sold, moved, or imported from the wild.
We are developing chimpanzee facial recognition software to survey the Internet for photographic evidence of live chimpanzee trafficking. The software is still in its early stages and needs to be tested. When fully developed the software, downloaded as an app on a cell phone, could have multiple applications, including: (1) searching the Internet for evidence of chimp trafficking, (2) creating a photo database of captive chimps to gain an accurate population count and track movements, (3) collecting evidence for illegal trade prosecutions, and (4) assisting with wild population studies. Eventually this technology will be expanded to recognize additional species.
Cyber wildlife crime will remain a problem for the foreseeable future.
Wildlife traders will continue to post pictures of live great apes on Internet social media and e-commerce websites.
Wildlife crime investigators and law enforecment have access to smart phones or tablets to use this technology.
There is a role for photographic evidence in criminal proceedings prosecuting wildlife traffickers.
The global conservation community will continue to prioritize and provide funding for initiatives to combat wildlife trafficking.
Chimpanzees have unique facial features that can be detected by properly trained facial recognition software.
The vastness of the Internet makes combatting cyber wildlife crime extremely challenging. Surveying and monitoring for illegal activities is time consuming and tedious. It can be like looking for a needle in a haystack (so many webpages to search!). This software will help to automate the process, reducing the amount of man-power hours and money needed to effectively police the Internet for photographic evidence of wildlife trafficking.
1. To create an efficient and reliable tool that can aid in combatting wildlife trafficking. 2. To create a tool that is user friendly for law enforcement, investigators, conservationists, and crowed sourcing. 3. To create a tool can be adaptable to study Internet-based wildlife trafficking, live captive animals, and wild populations. 4. To create a tool that we can “scale up” to recognize other animal species. 5. To collect evidence for wildlife trafficking criminal prosecutions. 6. To end online wildlife trafficking, and fight other forms of wildlife trafficking.
1. Seed funding. 2. New partners. 3. A validated photo dataset to train the software. 4. Guidance on how to prepare outreach/marketing materials. 5. Guidance on how to pitch this tool to potential funders.