December 4, 2015

Big Data Protects Big Cats

Big Data Protects Big Cats

Lions, leopards, and tigers are incredibly strong creatures. But even they cannot defend themselves against poachers who hunt them illegally. Simply enacting laws against hunting are not sufficient for prevention, unless there is a way to track down and prosecute the poachers. The solution those who seek to safeguard big cats in the wild found was big data analytics.

The population dip due to poaching and the campaign

According to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), the wild tiger population has dipped below 3,500 in Asia.

In 1996 EIA launched a campaign to investigate the illegal big cat trade and win support for the cause from governments and organizations. As much of the criminal activity crosses over country borders, EIA needs the cooperation of transnational enforcement agencies and governments to coordinate enforcement and contribute information.

The unstructured data problem and the solution

EIA found that the amount of unstructured data accumulated grew to the point that it became unmanageable.

As Charlotte Davies, a crime analyst at EIA observed, “In a trade characterised by repeat offenders, favoured trafficking routes and persistent trading hubs, EIA sought a smarter way to organize the information — a method to interrogate and explore.”

That is to say, a way to pull together all the different types of data to form the basis of predictive analytics.

It found the solution in 2006 in the form of a big data system from IBM. The system made it possible to bring together “historical intelligence and investigation findings into one fully-searchable, stand-alone database.”

Pulling together all the data for predictive analytics

For example, when EIA was informed about the governments of the area to investigate, IBM’s Analyst’s Notebook made it possible to discover criminals who use various names. Its “ability to map, smart match, merge, and resolve entities helped to streamline associations and present a clearer picture of core involvement, correspondingly facilitating suspect targeting.” It also has the ability to integrate visual information into the search, so that video and photographic documentation can be aligned with nominal, organizational and locational information.”

Caught by the stripes

A picture and location identification sealed the conviction for tiger poachers in Thailand. The poachers tried to claim that they shot their prey “in an unprotected area in Myanmar.” But the picture they took of the animal themselves told another story. The tiger’s stripe pattern presented a perfect match to the one shown tracked by a stealth camera put in place by the Wildlife Conservation Society in a protected forest.

The tiger from the cell phone images was identified as the same tiger captured by a camera trap image by WCS the year before, adding to the evidence against the poachers.

Just like fingerprints, the patterns of tiger stripes are individually distinctive. Consequently, the poacher’s picture proved that they did break the law. Thanks to the laws and enforcement that EIA works for, one was sentenced to four years and another to five, the first sentence of that duration for that form of crime.

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