Global Problem Statement 1 

Profiling and Combating Zoonotic Disease Risk from Wildlife Trafficking, Wildlife Markets, and Human Encroachment: A Decision-Making Tool 

 

Organization: The Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) at the U.S. Department of State and USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia  

 

Overview of the Problem: 

A majority of emerging infectious diseases with pandemic potential originate from wildlife, such as coronaviruses, Influenza, Ebola, and HIV/AIDs.  Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, experts around the world have emphasized importance of characterizing spillover risk in different locales and in different species.  

 

Wildlife trafficking, wildlife consumption for food and medicine, and encroachment into wildlife habitat are forms of contact that drive the emergence of zoonotic disease. High-risk wildlife wet markets, in which wildlife is slaughtered and sold alongside many different species, are hotbeds for wildlife trafficking and create key zoonotic disease risks.  These markets keep many different species, which would never otherwise be found in nature, together in cramped conditions. Often these markets are not well-regulated or inspected for legality or public health and hygiene standards.  

 

Destruction of protected wildlife habitat and encroachment into wildlife habitat areas also increase the risk of zoonotic disease.  Poorly regulated forms of encroachment, such as from illegal mining and illegal logging operations into wildlife habitat puts humans closer to wildlife — which leads to greater transmission risk of pathogens into human communities.  Encroachment also makes it easier for wildlife traffickers to poach protected species.  Construction of illegal roads not only paves the way for illegal mining and logging, wildlife trafficking, and illicit drug production, but also increases zoonotic disease risk.  

Understanding risk of spillover from wildlife – through wildlife trafficking, consumption, high-risk markets, and encroachment- is fundamental to developing effective prevention and risk mitigation. A better understanding of risk can inform policy and regulations aimed at reducing emerging disease risk associated with wildlife trade. The assessment of specific markets as “high risk” or “low risk” with regard to spillover can also inform targeted interventions by public health or law enforcement professions, which is important in the face of scarce financial resources.  

 

The Challenge: Identify, manage, and reduce the risk of zoonotic diseases, from wildlife trafficking and consumption, wildlife markets, or human encroachment into wildlife habitat. For example:  

 

The risk profiles of wildlife markets with regard to pathogen spillover vary among markets. Some markets will be “high risk” and others will be “low risk”. The challenge is to:  

a)   evaluate the most relevant criteria to be part of a risk profile (e.g. certain species or practices, such as slaughter on site), and evaluate a process for obtaining this information (preferably by “citizen scientists”), and propose a pipeline or platform for this data collection,   

b)     map networks of trade and other activities (e.g. patterns of consumption or encroachment) that contribute to spillover and amplification risk, and   

c)     to incorporate parts 1 and 2 into a decision making tool for interventions in wildlife markets, based on the risk of zoonotic spillover and transmission in specific wildlife markets. The ranking guidelines and methodology should be validated in different countries with varying wildlife trade and marketing contexts.  

 

Resources: 

Woods, M., Crabbe, H., Close, R. et al. Decision support for risk prioritisation of environmental health hazards in a UK city. Environ Health 15, S29 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-016-0099-y 

 

Huong NQ et al. Coronavirus testing indicates transmission risk increases along wildlife supply chains for human consumption in Viet Nam, 2013-2014. PLoS One. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0237129  

 

UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Characterizing Livestock Markets for Real Time Decision Making: The Market Profiling Application. Sept 2019. http://www.fao.org/3/ca6132en/ca6132en.pdf 

 

 

Global Problem Statement 2

Organization: Vulcan Inc.

 Problem Statement 2: Organizations trafficking wildlife products can be highly complex, involving many people and functional units. Disabling these organizations effectively is a challenging task, often tackled by identification of key individuals or relationships for intervention via known connections (following the money). Identifying these leverage points often involves synthesizing a huge amount of data, such as car registrations, gun registrations, financial transactions, informant information, known personal relationships, and when people are seen together. Graph representations are often helpful in making sense of it all, but collecting and processing all relevant data to generate these graphs can be hugely time-consuming. A tool to automate preprocessing, ingestion, and display of this data would save valuable investigator time.

 Possible bonus features:

a. Low-impact way for informants to submit additional information

b. Graph Machine Learning to automatically classify individuals or connections of interest, or to hypothesize missing connections.

Semantica AI is a possible source of inspiration, though their pricing model is prohibitive for many organizations.

·        Graph theory, conceptual overview: https://medium.com/basecs/a-gentle-introduction-to-graph-theory-77969829ead8 

·        Survey on machine learning graph applications: https://arxiv.org/pdf/2005.03675.pdf 

·        Possible datasets: Synthesize similar to datasets at https://icon.colorado.edu/, and the output goal of the ingestion process should be data in forms similar to those there.

·        Possible raw input files could include spreadsheets of vehicle identification numbers and license plates, separate spreadsheets of ownership information, lists of known associate groups, incident reports with names, dates, vehicles, and weapons, financial transactions between people or companies, and so on.

 

 

Global Problem Statement 3

Organization: Vulcan Inc.

 Problem Statement 3: Many animal populations vulnerable to poaching are tracked to some degree with collared or tagged individuals.  Identification of when and where these groups are threatened would enable better-targeted interventions on their behalf.  The ability to ingest and at a high level characterize the behavior of animal groups such as those available at movebank.org would support the protection of wide-ranging or remote animal populations.  Create a herd/group behavior identifier algorithm that can ingest this track information along with a list of poaching incidents with a wide time and location window (self-generated for testing, as this information is sensitive) and outputs an estimation of where in the track these incidents occurred.

·        Behavior/anomaly detection primer: https://towardsdatascience.com/a-note-about-finding-anomalies-f9cedee38f0b

·        An example of track-based behavior detection: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265964999_Automatic_detection_of_suspicious_behavior_of_pickpockets_with_track-based_features_in_a_shopping_mall

 

Possible datasets:

·        Those available at movebank.org

·        Relevant sets available at https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/  or data.gov, such as https://catalog.data.gov/dataset/sea-turtle-satellite-telemetry-data

 

 

Global Problem Statement 4

Organization: TRAFFIC

Problem Statement: Protecting Wildlife and People from the Risks of Online Trafficking in Wildlife

The Problem:

The current pandemic has revealed the fragile link between human health and wildlife exploitation, and how poorly regulated and illegal trade in wildlife can catalyze disease transmission and shatter global economies.  The World Health Organization determined that COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, meaning it originated from an animal. Other zoonotic diseases to date have included SARS, Ebola, Bird Flu, and MERS.  COVID-19 is suspected to have originated in bats and may have jumped to humans via an intermediary wild species like the pangolin.  With physical wildlife markets under scrutiny or suspended and people under lockdown in many countries to stop the spread of COVID-19, sellers are turning to online marketplaces and social media platforms to offload stockpiles of live wildlife, wildlife products and meat originally destined for physical markets. The sale of these items online further increases the risk of disease transmission to human populations through the use of delivery and express courier services, or direct selling to interested buyers in person. Online market places have been increasingly exploited by wildlife traffickers over the last decade, with social media platforms now serving as the main mechanism to connect buyers and sellers. TRAFFIC and NGO partners WWF and IFAW convene the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online which unites the tech sector to reduce wildlife trafficking online.  This Coalition, which is comprised  of  36 member companies including Google, Facebook, eBay, Alibaba and Tencent, works  to standardize  prohibited wildlife policies, train company staff to better detect illicit wildlife products such as elephant ivory and live tiger cubs, enhance automated detection filters, and educate and empower users to report suspicious listings.  The Coalition has achieved great success to date, including over 3.3 million listings blocked or removed by company members in two years, though the widespread trade in live animals online is still a challenge that requires technology solutions.

 The Challenge: 

Convenors of the Coalition, as well as tech company enforcement teams, are limited in capacity for manually searching online platforms for prohibited live animals for sale. This process is very resource-intensive and inefficient when searching on a global scale. To reduce the trade in high-risk live animals that may transmit zoonotic diseases to humans across global supply chains, the challenge is to develop a tool that will identify and alert these sales taking place on one social media platform in one language as a starting point, with the potential to scale to additional platforms and languages in future.  This will allow TRAFFIC, NGO partners and law enforcement agencies to flag new demand trends and emerging markets — and therefore target where action is needed to mitigate or eliminate risk.

Criteria:

     The tool developed should be able to scan one social media platform to identify high-risk live animals offered for sale. If feasible in the time provided, it would be great to capture information on  where  the  seller  is  located, contact  details, where  they  will  ship  the  animal,  any  buyer information available, any reference to the health of the animal, the number of animals available, and which species are offered.

·        The tool should be able to search in one language to start, with the ability to scale in future to include multiple languages.  Zoohackathon participants may choose which language to include based on location. Sample languages include: Arabic, English, French, Portuguese and Vietnamese.

·        The tool should include a warning system that will alert TRAFFIC of these risks to coordinate a response.

Things to consider that make online monitoring challenging:

o   Sellers are able to create, delete and recreate accounts and profiles as needed to avoid detection.

o   Not all sellers list an animal as for sale, or even include the name of the species. Some may simply use images of the animal as a means of advertising and let interested buyers comment   on   their   posts.   From   there   the   conversations   are   taken   into   private communications like WhatsApp chats.  Language in the comments will include things like ‘PM/DM’ for price and how much?

o   Many of the listings for live animals are found in private groups which will require admission by a group administrator.

o   It is important to note that the sale of endangered wildlife is an illegal activity and that many buyers and sellers involved are criminals. No member of your team should engage with these sellers directly, or like/comment any of their content. Nor should any member attempt to purchase any animals or products.

Data Sets and Other Resources:

·        To learn more about illegal wildlife trade online visit the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online website.

·        To review online monitoring reports from TRAFFIC visit the publication page.

·        To learn more about the link between COVID-19 and wildlife trade see TRAFFIC’s Wildlife trade, COVID-19 and zoonotic disease risks: shaping the response report.

 

 

REGIONAL PROBLEM STATEMENT 1:

Organization: Education for Nature Vietnam 

 

 Challenge Overview: Law Guidance App

Global illicit wildlife trafficking poses a serious threat to planet Earth’s biodiversity, as thousands of precious wildlife species are on the verge of extinction. Even though this is a global problem, Vietnam is considered one of the world’s major wildlife trafficking hotspots due to a massive demand for exotic food and traditional medicine made from wildlife.

 Over the past ten years, Vietnam has made significant progress in combating the illegal wildlife trade, with law enforcement authorities across the country becoming much more active in fighting wildlife crime. Wildlife protection laws have also been greatly improved, and this is especially true of the new Penal Code, which is considered a dream law for combatting the illegal wildlife trade. Thanks to these efforts, a long list of wildlife criminals – including leaders of organized trans-border criminal networks – have been sentenced to long-term prison sentences for wildlife crimes, with the highest so far being 13 years.

 Knowing exactly which law and punishment to apply to each wildlife crime case can be challenging for law enforcement authorities given Vietnam’s long list of wildlife laws and the many complications surrounding some of them. Therefore, ENV has been producing an annual Law Guidance in booklet form, aimed at helping law enforcement authorities apply appropriate laws for different types of violations. This guidance has proven invaluable in assisting authorities with their enquiries on wildlife law application. However, the Guidance in booklet form, whether in hard or soft copy, is limited in ease of use when in the field, making the development of an app based on the document the ideal solution. Aside from ease of access, limitations set by the current format will also be removed if it’s converted into app form, such as limited space prohibiting photos of each wildlife species.

Problem Statement: Create an app to help transform the ENV Law Guidance into a user-friendly app in order for law enforcement officers across the country to have unhindered access to the latest information and law application updates – ultimately aiding them in their daily fight against wildlife crime. 

 Resources:

Wildlife Law Library: https://env4wildlife.org/wildlife-laws-library/

Law Guidance Handbook (Vietnamese only)

https://thiennhien.org/uploads/env-huong-dan-thuc-thi-phap-luat-2020-7-10-2020.pdf

 

REGIONAL PROBLEM STATEMENT 2: 

Organization: Education for Nature Vietnam 

Challenge Overview: Empowering the community to raise awareness

Southeast Asia is considered a major source, transit, and consumer state of wildlife and wildlife products. Consuming wildlife products is still considered socially acceptable in various parts of the region today, and wildlife is commonly served in restaurants as exotic dishes. Many people still believe that traditional medicine made from wildlife can cure a broad spectrum of ailments, including very serious diseases like cancer. Wildlife parts and products like rhino horn and ivory are also often used as a status symbol among the up-and-coming and the extremely wealthy, while younger generations are fond of keeping wildlife as exotic pets. On top of this endless demand for wildlife, the silence of non-wildlife consumers and the acceptance of the broader society toward wildlife consumption have also contributed to the problem, pushing thousands of species to the brink of extinction.

 Reducing demand for wildlife and mobilizing public involvement in stopping illegal wildlife trafficking are critically important to further contribution to wildlife protection in Southeast Asia.

Problem Statement: We would like for Zoohackathon participants to help figure out how to use technology to raise public awareness and encourage the public to become actively involved in fighting wildlife crimes.

  •     Build an App that enables the community to exchange ideas and raise awareness for protecting wildlife.
  •       Find a way for communities to easily reach out to NGO’s, local authorities to share information on best practices and feedback on what is working or not for protecting wildlife.

 

REGIONAL PROBLEM STATEMENT 3:   

Illegal online trading of wildlife

The problem: Due to increased enforcement, more wildlife traffickers have shifted their transactions to Facebook and other social media pages. This has become more prevalent during Covid quarantine restrictions which have limited further movement. Monitoring and tagging of transactions on social media is time consuming and pages are difficult to penetrate, with users being able to create new groups as soon as these are taken down

The challenge: Teams will develop an aggregator of FB sites that will consolidate pages and track their engagement patterns to identify common users so that these can be monitored by enforcement agencies to help build their case against online traffickers

 

REGIONAL PROBLEM STATEMENT 4:  

 Wildlife laundering by wildlife farms

Problem: To help stem the harvesting of wildlife from their wild habitats to supply the exotic pet and plant trade, some governments have allowed the setting up of commercial breeding facilities which may include private zoos, farms and other designated permittees. Unfortunately, some of the more unscrupulous traders launder their holdings with animals and plants taken from the wild and pass them off as having been bred in-house. This co-mingling of flora and fauna taken from wild stocks with those bred in the farms may cause contagions. Monitoring of these farms are still done manually with visits and paper-based documentation. Reports and inventories are often done late, if at all.

The challenge: Develop a tool to help national environment and enforcement agencies improve their monitoring of wildlife farms, assessing their stocks in relation to their mandatory reporting and permitting system.

 

REGIONAL PROBLEM STATEMENT 5:  

 Timber trafficking

Problem: The illegal cutting of trees in forests is a major problem in Southeast Asia. Illegally sourced timber is oftentimes mixed with wood taken from legal plantations. Many agencies still rely on paper-based monitoring systems to track lumber in the field, which is prone to errors and corruption.

The challenge: Develop a real-time electronic monitoring system from point of origin to point of destination for monitoring agencies. The system should allow for the tagging of lumber or timber in a shipment that can be easily verified at different checkpoints in real time.