‘WildLeaks’ Encrypted Website Protects Wildlife Crime Whistle-blowers

gibbon rescued from illegal wildlife trade, Cambodia

Gibbon at a rescue center in Cambodia. The center houses many gibbons confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade that for various reasons cannot be released back into the wild. (© Conservation International/photo by Emilie Verdon)

Imagine for a moment that you’re a security guard at a busy, international seaport. You’ve noticed that throughout the last few months, a well-dressed businessman has been visiting the shipping container storage area at the port, associating with people he doesn’t normally interact with.

They meet at odd times, often outside of business hours. His visitors’ vehicles are always covered in dust or mud. Every time they meet, the businessman’s associates transfer several large bundles from their trucks into the container, which is nearly full.

Didn’t you see on the news that the port has been pinpointed as a hub for trafficking ivory? You know something isn’t right, but what can you do? Who do you tell? You need your job, and the businessman is very influential.

This scenario has almost certainly taken place at some point or another in the dangerous world of the illegal wildlife trade. Estimates suggest that this global trade is the fourth most lucrative transnational crime behind trafficking of narcotics, humans and weapons. There is also evidence that the wildlife trade has been used to fund other crimes, such as those committed by terrorist organizations, making illegal wildlife trafficking a direct threat to global security.

Among the factors behind the unprecedented rising levels of wildlife poaching and trafficking over the past years are the rapidly increasing demand in consumer countries, the ease with which wildlife and wildlife products are moved and the seemingly endless supply of poachers willing to source the products.

illegal shark fishers hold up catch, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Fishermen hold up carcasses of dead sharks illegally caught in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago. (© Conservation International/photo by Abraham Goram)

Recently, the illegal wildlife trade has become better organized and sophisticated. Today, it is thought to involve established criminal syndicates that use the most current technology and techniques throughout their supply chain, from poaching to transport to delivery. Wildlife criminals are rarely prosecuted, and significant punishment for their crimes is even less common.

Protecting natural capital — the benefits and services nature provides to people — is CI’s top priority. That’s why CI supports WildLeaks, the world’s first secure, anonymous web-based platform for whistle-blowers to share information about wildlife crime.

The goal of the WildLeaks website is to receive and evaluate anonymous information regarding wildlife and forest crimes and transform this information into measurable actions. The submission system is entirely based on the use of Tor technology, which allows whistle-blowers to submit sensitive information in a very secure and always encrypted way. This ensures that they remain anonymous and their location indeterminate.

WildLeaks is a nonprofit, collaborative project created and funded by the Elephant Action League. It is managed by a group of experienced individuals, including the directors of reputable environmental investigative organizations, local and international NGOs, environmental lawyers, accredited journalists, security professionals and former law enforcement officers.

The creators of WildLeaks hope it will facilitate the identification, arrest and prosecution of poachers, businesspeople, corrupt governmental officials and others involved with the poaching of endangered species and the trafficking of wildlife and forest products.

Since the launch of WildLeaks just six months ago, dozens of tips have been submitted, highlighting potential criminal activity all over the world regarding wildlife and natural resource trafficking. Of these submissions, 28 leaks have been assessed by the WildLeaks expert panel as “reliable and potentially useful” and are being acted upon.

Imagine once again that you’re that security guard witnessing suspicious activity at the seaport — and that you send an anonymous tipoff about what you’ve seen through WildLeaks. A few weeks later you read about the arrest of a prominent businessman and five members of a well-known gang in possession of 350 kilograms of ivory worth over US$ 1 million. The suspects will soon appear in court and could face up to seven years in prison, as well as fines in excess of US$ 250,000, if found guilty.

Wildlife crime is an immensely complex problem that requires equally complicated tactics to fight. Protecting the safety of those who want to help is a crucial step.

Michael Beckner is the wildlife trafficking manager in CI’s Africa + Madagascar division. To learn more about WildLeaks please tune in to “The Diane Rehm Show” tomorrow morning, August 21st, at 11:00 am EST. Diane Rehm will be discussing WildLeaks with Andrea Crosta, the executive director and co-founder of the Elephant Action League and founder and project leader of WildLeaks.


  1. Blantina Raphael says

    It is very important to preserve effectively our heritage which we have, because if there gone there gone forever. Also we preserve for present and for future generation.

  2. joseph muita says

    Lets all encourage the passion in protecting wild plant and animal species and their habitats to ensure that nature will be around for future generations to enjoy and to recognize the importance of wildlife and wilderness lands to humans and other species alike. Thanks a lot for sharing.

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