Creating a network to defeat a network

Premiere episode of  Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly featured IFAW’s tenBoma program and its architect, Lt Col Faye Cuevas. 

The one unifying characteristic that everyone involved in illegal wildlife trade shares is that they are criminals. There is no underlying hatred of elephants, rhinos, pangolins or any other wild animal. There is, instead, an underlying goal of making money through illegal means.

Many of us in the conservation world were thrown off track early on by focusing on the product rather than the network that moves that product. We talked, for example, about stopping elephant poaching, rhino poaching and the illegal trade in birds but focusing on any one animal blinded us to the reality that there are sophisticated criminal networks orchestrating the widespread killing of wildlife across the globe. The network that moves ivory from Africa is the same network that can move illegal charcoal, cigarettes, stolen pharmaceuticals and sex slaves. It takes large sums of money and a vast communications network. The truth is that if these criminals were not moving ivory they would simply turn to moving another product such as arms or drugs.

We were slow to turn away from the narrative that poaching is largely driven by poor communities trying to survive. Instead, we know that poor communities are also the victims of criminal gangs that kidnap torture and hold individuals and communities hostage in their pursuit of illicit gain. Poor villagers are not the masterminds that can deliver illegal wildlife from Africa to Asia. They are, however, a potential partner in creating safe spaces for wildlife and for themselves. In order to create that safe space we, at IFAW, refocused our efforts on creating a network of individuals and organizations that disrupt and destroy criminal networks.

Above IFAW’s Chief of Staff, Lt Col Faye Cuevas, explains the tenBoma program.

There is much attention given to the use of technology in the effort to provide wildlife security. Technology in and of itself will not lead to the destruction of criminal networks. The realization that technology can help us map the criminal networks that are wreaking destruction, literally plundering the planet, is what is new to the fight to protect wildlife. IFAW’s tenBoma project, launched in Kenya, brings together technology and communities to map wildlife crime so that patterns of criminal behavior emerge and can, therefore, be disrupted. Our goal is to increase the amount of information shared, analyze that information and turn it into actionable intelligence. In other words, we want to stop the criminals before they kill, not just chase them down once they have killed.

Above: Nick Hanauer, IFAW’s tenBoma program manager, discusses the role of technology in the fight to protect wildlife.

Looking across the landscape, we know that there is so much information out there that can help us stop the killing of incredible creatures around the world. We must convince the people who hold that information to share it. In truth, that is the greatest challenge in creating life-saving intelligence.

The news is good. More and more conservation organizations are coming together to form a network to defeat criminal networks and tenBoma is a testament to the effort. The map is filling with dots that expose these criminal networks and our aim is to connect all those dots globally so that we create safe spaces for animals and the people that protect them.

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This blog originally appeared on HuffPost.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Dr. Joseph Okori
Regional Director, Southern Africa and Program Director, Landscape Conservation
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation