Charlotte Davies describes how intelligence can help save species

Recently, I was interested to read about a physicist named John Archibald Wheeler. One of Wheeler’s theories was (put very basically) that everything is information. Meaning, literally, everything is information – that the deepest foundations of the universe are ultimately made up of nuggets of information, corresponding to a vast chorus of “yes” or “no” binary choices, from which all physical existence flows.

So this word ‘information’ no longer merely suggests something like ‘facts’ or ‘knowledge’. As information philosophy explains it, the word has now expanded to mean something greater – something that can even be described in biological, metaphysical, even cosmological terms. It’s said we’re living in an information age. In recent times, the concept of information has mutated to symbolise and represent many different things, and come to guide us into myriad new ways of thinking and doing. Likewise, in the enforcement world, the understanding that information exists, that it can be captured, expanded and enhanced to enable appropriate responses to illegal activity has also undergone an expansion in recent years.

This blog shows you that EIA has many activities, works with many tools. The gathering, analysing and sharing of information to identify and combat environmental crime is one shade in its palette. In the enforcement world, these processes use raw information as the starting ingredient; they connect, unite and enhance pieces of information into a more cohesive whole, called intelligence. The result of these actions should be a picture or a portrait of crime; where it’s happening, due to whom – and how to combat it. Intelligence-led action relies on profiling, investigation and consideration of targets – not random or superficial activity that isn’t informed by the situation on the ground. As EIA’s work cross-cuts enforcement and conservation concerns, we believe that intelligence-led enforcement is one thing which will help to preserve endangered species.

Faced with a haemorrhage of species from some of the most biodiverse areas on earth, we ask enforcement agencies to develop their applications of intelligence. Because we have seen that borders pose few barriers to a sophisticated and organised global trade, we ask that enforcement agencies and governments communicate, and share their information to dig down to the roots of the illegal trade, to effect substantial and lasting change.

Please click on image to see a larger version (Copyright EIA)

This composite i2® chart shows trans-Himalayan connections in the skin trade, revealed through skin seizure events and telephone records. Copyright EIA.

EIA’s own investigations have shown that those perpetuating the illegal trade operate within sophisticated and fluid networks. By necessity these are covert, shadowy, difficult to penetrate. Because EIA campaigns for change to protect the natural world from abuse perpetuated by networks such as these, we use i2® intelligence analysis software to depict the nature of criminal associations and transactions to governments and enforcement agencies. There needs to be a sophisticated approach to a sophisticated problem, and presenting information in a way law enforcement agencies understand is just one way of pushing environmental crime up the agenda. EIA has seen that the right information really is there – indeed everywhere – waiting to be captured and used to fight environmental crime.

It’s my hope that enforcement responses to environmental crime might reflect features that have been ascribed to the natural world. Vigour is needed, co-operation also. Some range states now have dedicated wildlife crime enforcement units; there are information sharing networks are operating. But species decline continues. The kingpins continue to operate undeterred. Traders tell us they anticipate increased demand for tiger skins in this, the Year of the Tiger.

The fabric of issues impacting upon environmental crime is complex. Decision makers need to dig deep into what causes and perpetuates these problems, and make real commitments to change. The International Tiger Forum in St Petersburg is forthcoming, in November.  So in the Year of the Tiger and beyond, let information be transformed into intelligent enforcement.