There’s renewed hope in wildlife protection, restoration, conservation and management after an interactive data driven tool, Wild-eye East Africa, was launched with support from USAID and US Department of Interior through Internews Earth Journalism Network.
The launch by Oxpeckers South Africa in collaboration with InfoNile Uganda will help combat wildlife crimes by providing updates, alerts and information, tracking crime reports, seizures, court proceeding and convictions.
Speaking during the launch in Uganda yesterday, Andiswa Matikinca the WildEye East Africa Trainer and Data manager said the tool would track and expose eco criminals in East Africa.
Data analysis of East Africa collected by journalists (Data Wranglers) using WildEye in the past few months shows that Environmental crime in East Africa is on the rise.
Andiswa noted there was however a decline in 2020 and 2021 probably due to Covid-19 and difficulties around record keeping and delayed court dates.
Andiswa who also doubles as an associate journalist with Oxpeckers Investigative Journalism Network said Kenya leads in wildlife crime incidents accounting for 64 per cent of the 650 data points recorded.
She added that Nairobi, Kampala, Mombasa, Dar es Salaam and Kwale were the hotspot areas where the incidents occurred.
Statistics on popular items in the tracking report were ivory, tusks, and wild-meat while incidents recorded on WildEye East included convictions at 43 per cent, arrests at 34 per cent and court cases at 23 per cent. Noted that punishment to convicted criminals between 2017 and 2021.
The WildEye tool could be used by journalists and Law enforcement to track patterns, trends, routes and specific incidents for law enforcement, for legal investigations, inform policy, research, and training, monitoring environmental crimes, data journalism, access court records, police reports and other official documents.
Wild animals are public resources and should not be trafficked to the benefit of a few disadvantaging countries, their wealth and heritage.
Annika McGinnis Director and co-founder InfoNile Investigative journalism observed that the Nile River, which is the world longest trans-national river basin which runs through 11 countries in Eastern and Northern Africa is under threat by climate change, biodiversity threats, population growth, water pollution and worsening water scarcity.
She observed that there is critical gap between data published by scientists and researchers and its translation to general public knowledge through the media saying the WildEye Tool would harmonise the two disciplines for consistency and credible information.
Kiundu Waweru from Internews observed that the tool could not have come at a better time especially now when Media houses experience diminishing revenues and unable to meet the costly news gathering aspects.
He said there is emerging new ways of telling stories like the investigative tool that was launched terming it as a game changer in the Murky waters of wildlife investigations.
Waweru noted that the project was in line with Internews ethos to support media produce quality local news which reach millions of people with quality information to save lives, improve livelihoods and hold institutions accountable.
The Internews EJN Workshop in Uganda brought on board 24 participants 8 of whom were editors from Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and more number of participants through virtual webinar.
He underscored that the impact of journalism works in building communities of like-minded collectives passionate about impactful journalism, environment, heritage including flora & fauna and serving the people who rely on information to make choices and decisions about their lives.
He called on partnerships to the project to strive and make the wild eye East Africa tool sustainable.
Jane Shuuma of Traffic, an NGO working globally trading in wild animals and plants in the context of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, said the NGO ensures trade in wild animals and plants is not threat to conservation of nature through the Connect project.
She said the project involves conserving natural capital and enhancing collaborative management of trans-boundary resources in East Africa and implemented in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda with the support of USAID.
Ms. Shuuma reiterated that the event is significant in combating wildlife crime using digital technology journalism tool developed to collect and share data on legal interventions against wildlife trafficking.
She emphasized the importance of data to empower and make strategic informed decision to help identify problems, policy decisions and amendments as a country or regional blocs by giving status showing improvement, stagnation or decline in efforts made so far.
The behaviour change expert noted that wildlife crime cannot be ignored given the role it played in fuelling corruption and loss of natural resources.
The WildEye project was courtesy of support from partnerships including USAID, US Department of the Interior, Internews, Oxpeckers, InfoNile, IUCN, WWF, JRS Biodiversity Foundation, and Water Journalists Africa among others.
By Joseph Kamolo