According to IFAW in their 2013 report, Criminal Nature: The Global Security Implications of the Illegal Wildlife Trade, worldwide industrial trade in illegal wildlife is estimated to be $19 billion. That”s equivalent to the price Facebook paid for WhatsApp, or nineteen times what it paid for Instagram. What makes this even more problematic to reconcile, not to mention counter is that this illegal activity is commingled within legal wildlife trade, estimated to be over $323 billion, globally. What further compounds the concerns about illegal wildlife trade is that this $19 billion supports the same bad actors over the same smuggling routes, the same logistical and finance supply chains and leveraged by other criminal organizations and terrorists to procure, transport and sell illegal narcotics, weapons, counterfeit merchandise and most disturbing, the trafficking of humans for modern slavery & prostitution. Each of these illicit activities are also multi-billion dollar global industries, interwoven into the fight against illegal wildlife trade.
On 8 March 2016, I was honored to participate in a Congressional Forum held at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. The Forum, entitled Criminal Nature: The Global Security Implications of Wildlife Crime, was co-sponsored by the American Geographical Society, The International Fund for Animal Welfare, and the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation and continued the dialogue started in IFAW’s report of the same name.
There were three panels during the Forum: “Collecting the Dots”, “Mapping the Connections”, and “Acting on the Data”. I chaired the first panel, which was focused on data collection. After making some some brief opening remarks, including noting for the audience that as we convened the Forum, we had staff on the ground in Kenya, donating training to members of the Kenya Wildlife Service on all aspects of Fulcrum in support of the tenBoma project. Then the three distinguished panelists, Dr. Colleen McCue, Mr. Kelvin Alie, and Mr. David Luna shared their perspectives and collective experiences in collecting data related to the illegal wildlife trade.
Also during the Forum the tenBoma effort, and specifically Fulcrum, were mentioned numerous times as examples of innovation in combating illegal wildlife trade. I also connected with a number of other panelists during the day, as well as audience members who were keen to discuss potential collaboration with Fulcrum. This was entirely unsolicited yet not unexpected — Fulcrum has gained significant traction across a wide range of vertical markets as the best mobile data collection platform available. We’re very excited about the partnership with IFAW on tenBoma and equally excited about the prospects for greater engagement in the global community seeking to mitigate and eradicate the illicit wildlife trade. Stay tuned for more news about our role and contributions to wildlife conservation efforts, not only in continental Africa but around the world.
Lastly, during the questions for the second panel, “Mapping the Connections”, I asked Faye Cuevas, Chief of Staff for IFAW and panel chair, “What is the cost of one poached elephant?” It wasn’t a rhetorical question. I know Faye, as a fellow AGS Councilor, but also a fellow member of the USGIF community. She understood my point as intentionally being provocative (which, I suspect, is partially why I was invited to participate in the Forum), but I wasn’t trying to be contentious. She later pointed out that various economic studies state that a live elephant, over the course of its life, is worth $1.6 million to the Kenyan economy in tourism and related revenue. It’s my opinion however that the “cost of one poached elephant” in the context of the Forum is many orders of magnitude greater. Consider just the US budget for counter terrorism and other illicit network activity in central and east Africa, all of which are fueled, in whole or in part by trade in illegal wildlife. Not to mention expenditures by NGOs for the same geographic regions, as well as costs in Asia (predominantly China) to help counter the real and contrived “traditional medicinal” markets as well as other cultural motivations for illegal wildlife parts that drive up prices and incentivize poachers and others in the supply chain to take greater risks. These costs, in the aggregate, run into the hundreds of billions of dollars, annually. So again, I ask, what is the cost one poached elephant?