Last year more than 1,000 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa — a record number that pushed the country's two rhino species closer than ever to extinction. Although anti-poaching efforts continue in South Africa and around the world, most of these crimes tend to go unpunished. Few people are caught and even fewer are jailed.
A new website aims to turn that around. WildLeaks, created by the California-based Elephant Action League (EAL), allows users to anonymously report details of wildlife crimes, including poaching, illegal logging, wildlife trafficking and other illegal activities. Built on a similar model to WikiLeaks, the site protects the identities of the people who submit information in an effort to encourage them to come forward. "Our first priority is to facilitate the identification, arrest and prosecution of criminals, traffickers, businessmen and corrupt governmental officials behind the poaching of endangered species and the trafficking of wildlife and forest products such as ivory, rhino horn, big cats, apes, pangolins, birds and illegal timber," the site reads. Unlike WikiLeaks, the site does not aim to punish governments but instead seeks to encourage whistleblowers and work with law enforcement agencies.
In addition to seeking tips, the site also contains information about wildlife crime — a business estimated to be worth about $17 billion a year — and its human costs, including the exploitation of communities and the murder of wildlife rangers.
EAL Executive Director Andrea Crosta told the Australian Broadcasting Company that the site, which currently serves the Asia-Pacific region, fills a need. "We thought there was a gap between people with important information and people who can actually do things with this information. The priority remains to prevent wildlife crime where possible and to facilitate the identification, arrest and prosecution of people behind those crimes."
Once tips and other information are submitted, the site's organizers and experts can use it to begin an investigation or they can share it with law enforcement agencies or the media. They can also opt to hold onto the information if its dissemination could endanger the source. The site includes a page detailing the risks that people could face if they blow the whistle on wildlife crime and offers tips on how tipsters can protect themselves.
In addition to Crosta, WildLeaks has a team of project managers and advisers, including environmental lawyer Pauline Verheij and journalist Bryan Christy, known for his recent investigation into ivory poaching and smuggling. As Christy told National Geographic, "The most important weapon the world has against international wildlife traffickers and corruption is an informed public. The goal of WildLeaks is to give voice to the powerless, to both animals and the humans who risk their lives to protect them."
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