Digital Surveillance: A Novel Approach to Monitoring the Illegal Wildlife Trade

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Digital Surveillance: A Novel Approach to Monitoring the Illegal Wildlife Trade

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Title: Digital Surveillance: A Novel Approach to Monitoring the Illegal Wildlife Trade
Author: Sonricker Hansen, Amy L.; Joly, Damien; Mekaru, Sumiko; Li, Annie; Brownstein, John Samuel

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Citation: Sonricker Hansen, Amy L., Annie Li, Damien Joly, Sumiko Mekaru, and John Samuel Brownstein. 2012. Digital surveillance: A novel approach to monitoring the illegal wildlife trade. PLoS ONE 7(12): e51156.
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Abstract: A dearth of information obscures the true scale of the global illegal trade in wildlife. Herein, we introduce an automated web crawling surveillance system developed to monitor reports on illegally traded wildlife. A resource for enforcement officials as well as the general public, the freely available website,, provides a customizable visualization of worldwide reports on interceptions of illegally traded wildlife and wildlife products. From August 1, 2010 to July 31, 2011, publicly available English language illegal wildlife trade reports from official and unofficial sources were collected and categorized by location and species involved. During this interval, 858 illegal wildlife trade reports were collected from 89 countries. Countries with the highest number of reports included India (n = 146, 15.6%), the United States (n = 143, 15.3%), South Africa (n = 75, 8.0%), China (n = 41, 4.4%), and Vietnam (n = 37, 4.0%). Species reported as traded or poached included elephants (n = 107, 12.5%), rhinoceros (n = 103, 12.0%), tigers (n = 68, 7.9%), leopards (n = 54, 6.3%), and pangolins (n = 45, 5.2%). The use of unofficial data sources, such as online news sites and social networks, to collect information on international wildlife trade augments traditional approaches drawing on official reporting and presents a novel source of intelligence with which to monitor and collect news in support of enforcement against this threat to wildlife conservation worldwide.
Published Version: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051156
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