Analytics System Helps Protect Endangered SpeciesBy Samuel Greengard | Posted 2014-09-03 Email Print
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An international environmental protection agency turned to analytics to protect endangered animals from a global network of poachers and illegal traffickers.
Protecting endangered species—from Bengal Tigers and rhinos to elephants and Black Spider Monkeys—has always been a difficult challenge. However, in recent years, a global network of poachers and illegal traffickers has become increasingly bold, organized and sophisticated.
One organization tackling this problem is the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an independent United Kingdom-based group committed to investigating and exposing environmental crimes. The agency, which operates globally and works with government officials and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), depends on sophisticated intelligence and field operations to identify criminal gangs and expose abuse.
In the past, EIA relied on a combination of paper records, computer files and an Access database to track investigations. However, over time, it became apparent that the approach imposed severe limitations.
As a result, EIA turned to IBM's i2 Analyst Notebook to create a highly searchable custom database that integrates historical data and current records. The software detects complex patterns, relationships and trends that might otherwise escape employees' attention. It displays the data through visualizations, which can be easily adjusted and altered based on numerous variables.
"Historically, environmental crime has been a very low priority for governments," says Charlotte Davies, crime analyst for EIA. "The resources have not existed to tackle the problem effectively. Analytics provides a key to generating better information and intelligence that can be used to produce actionable results."
Among other things, the organization uses mapping systems, deforestation data, photos, historical records and current data from a variety of sources to gain a deeper and broader view of criminal activity.
For example, the EIA used the analytics system to conduct a detailed analysis of Sansar Chand, a notorious tiger trader in India who had a history that extended back more than 40 years. (Chand died last March while awaiting trial.) The data exposed a complex network of tiger skin traders that continue to operate.
The agency discovered relationships between crossover phone numbers, addresses, freight agents, shipping vessels and other multifaceted interactions between these individuals and organizations. As a result, law enforcement officials have been able to use the data to investigate and fight animal trafficking in India and other parts of the world.
Davies says that the analytics technology offers a high level of flexibility and makes it relatively easy to view data in practical and useful ways. What's more, it's possible to apply the analytics system to a wide range of situations, problems and conditions. For instance, the software is adept at spotting multiple company aliases and examining data across geographies. "As a small organization with limited resources, we are able to greatly expand our reach and what we are able to achieve," she says.
As the environmental stakes grow and the Internet and other technologies become tools for traffickers, Davies believes there is a growing need for private organizations to take the lead and work with government officials and others to address the problem.
"These crimes have serious consequences that affect the planet," Davies points out. "There are species and ecosystems at risk. The analytics software allows us to operate far more effectively and have an effect on the criminal networks operating this trade."