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In the underbelly of e-commerce sites, ‘cyber spotters’ are hunting down illegal wildlife listings


USING SCIENCE AND TECH TO INVESTIGATE WILDLIFE TRAFFICKING 

After verifying the listings flagged, WWF Singapore first shares them with the respective e-commerce platforms to remove them. Listings of repeat “offenders” are shared with law enforcement.

Over at the National Parks Board’s (NParks) Wildlife Trade Branch, director of wildlife trade Anna Wong and her team jump into action when they get wind of such listings. 

“We will monitor and then we will contact the seller or see how we can locate the seller. Sometimes the name doesn’t have a handphone number; there’s nothing at all. But if there’s a handphone number, we can try to see whether we can get an address or contact them,” Dr Wong told CNA. 

Once illegal wildlife trade products are confiscated, NParks sends them to the Centre for Wildlife Forensics (CWF) – Singapore’s national facility that uses science and technology to investigate cases of illegal wildlife trade. 

Building on the work of the Centre for Animal and Veterinary Sciences, CWF’s enhanced testing capabilities aim to “accurately identify the species seized” and “provide deeper insights on the seized items, such as their geographical origins”, said NParks in its media release about the facility, which opened in August 2021. 

For instance, studies done with Professor Samuel Wasser from the University of Washington found that most of the large ivory seizures made globally over the last decade came from “repeated poaching at the same location”, and even from the same families of elephants, added NParks.

By revealing the “criminal networks” operating in source countries, source countries can focus on tackling “elephant poaching hotspots” and the illegal export of ivory, while destination countries act to curb consumer demand for ivory products.

But not everything is a big seizure, added Dr Charlene Judith Fernandez, director for the Centre for Animal and Veterinary Sciences, whose team also does laboratory work for CWF.

“There’s the day-to-day work as well. The whole point is to make the detection skills better, more sensitive, more specific. … For example, you can’t argue with the raw ivory, but once it starts to be carved, (authorities) ask if it’s ivory or resin or bone. We’ve had to help to differentiate that,” she shared. 



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