Journalism and the environment

08. How to talk about wildlife trafficking and its consequences through geo-journalism /

How do we report on wildlife trafficking and its consequences when this criminal enterprise happens in the shadows? Although species are protected, it has become a global problem. We see it everywhere, and the ongoing Covid-19 crisis has brought the issue to the fore.

Ivory trafficking is probably the most well-known example of the illegal wildlife trade.

This long-standing and lucrative activity generates 400 million dollars a year according to the latest World Wildlife Crime Report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, commissioned by the United Nations General Assembly. When coupled with habitat loss and human pressures, the future of Africa’s elephants is uncertain.

However, demand for ivory is in decline and organised criminal groups are increasingly targeting other protected species to satisfy consumer demand, principally in Asia. With the Asian species of pangolin all but wiped out, the black market has sets its sights on the four African species. The pangolin has become the world’s most poached animal, on the African continent, and is therefore endangered. Unlike the big mammals in this region of the world, it is not hunted as a trophy but for its meat. It is prized as a delicacy, especially in China and Vietnam. Its scales, just like rhino horn, are ground into powder and used as a “miracle cure” for a variety of ailments.

While in Africa, this strange-looking animal is considered a luxury gift. It is believed to have supernatural powers, its scales can even ward off evil spirits…

But when wild animals are poached from their natural habit, slaughtered and sold illegally, the potential for the transmission of diseases that spread from animals to humans, is increased. Caused by pathogens, they represent up to 75 percent of all emerging infectious diseases. This is true of SARS-CoV-2 that caused the COVID-19 pandemic. The current health crisis gives us an idea of what we can expect if wildlife is not better protected.

Moreover traffickers are finding ingenious ways to sell their goods elsewhere than in traditional street markets.

They are increasingly using social media platforms as sales points, especially for the sale of live reptiles and tiger bone products.

With this diversification of illicit resources, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s report outlines the need for stronger criminal justice systems.

How? By improving legal frameworks and strengthening the judicial process. It is therefore vitally important to improve international cooperation and cross-border investigations.

Stopping these criminal networks will not only protect the world’s biodiversity, already threatened by other factors.

But also help prevent future public health emergencies and pandemics.

Noticing a gap in how law enforcement agencies and legal systems handle wildlife crime across continents, Oxpeckers and Earth Journalism Network have launched the wildlife trafficking #WildEye website.

For those of you not familiar with these two organisations, Oxpeckers is a South Africa-based news outlet that covers southern Africa and elsewhere. Its articles focus on the illegal wildlife trade as well as on the effects of climate change and pollution. As for Earth Journalism Network, this one-of-a-kind organisation was created to empower networks of local journalists to effectively cover environmental issues.

And we’re going to discuss this digital GeoJournalism tool with Roxane Joseph, data manager of the #WildEye project for Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism. This tool collects and shares data on legal interventions on wildlife trafficking in Europe. In May 2020, with global attention focused on the wildlife trade as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the tool was expanded to cover Asia. Interview…

Roxanne Joseph, Data Journalist, South Africa

My name is Roxanne Joseph, and I’m based in Cape Town, South Africa. I’m a data journalist. #WildEye was created by journalists for journalists, and it allows you to map and track illegal wildlife crime.

Before you even start planning a piece of research or a journalistic investigation, find out what data already exists on the topic, and interrogate it. Because not only does data

help you to answer questions, it may also lead you to ask even more.

Data storytelling is an approach used to convey insights where data visualizations and a narrative work in tandem. Practically speaking, you need to understand the context, eliminate the clutter of information, choose an effective visual, focus your attention on something specific, and obviously, tell a story.

Many people often struggle to see the connection between wildlife trafficking and our own lives. It affects us just as much as it affects the species being wiped out. Ecologically, economically, geographically, socially and politically. So we see #WildEye as a way  of bringing all the information that we have together, to encourage change through powerful storytelling.

Roxanne Joseph, Data Journaliste, Afrique du Sud

“Je m’appelle Roxanne Joseph, et je suis basée à Cape Town, en Afrique du Sud. Je suis datajournaliste. #WildEye a été créé par les journalistes pour les journalistes, et permet de localiser et de suivre la criminalité liée aux espèces sauvages.

Avant même de planifier un projet de recherche ou une enquête journalistique, cherchez les données déjà existantes sur le sujet et examinez-les. Parfois, non seulement les données permettent de répondre à des questions, mais elles peuvent vous mener à en poser d’autres.

Le data storytelling (la mise en récit des données) est une approche permettant de transmettre des idées en associant la visualisation des données à un récit. Concrètement, il faut comprendre le contexte, trier les informations, choisir une représentation graphique efficace, se concentrer sur un sujet spécifique et, bien entendu, raconter une histoire.

De nombreuses personnes peinent à comprendre le lien entre le trafic d’espèces sauvages et nos propres vies. Ce trafic nous affecte tout autant que les espèces en voie de disparition. Il a un impact écologique, économique, géographique, social et politique. #WildEye est pour nous une manière de mettre en commun toutes les informations dont nous disposons, et d’encourager le changement grâce à des récits percutants.”

A CFI project in partnership with France Médias Monde

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