Although the international commercial trade in elephant tusks was banned in 1989, the slaughter goes on, driven mainly by a demand for ivory goods in East Asia. Since 2007, according to the World Wildlife Federation, the illegal ivory business has doubled. In 2012, some 35,000 elephants were poached.
To discourage the business, President Obama authorized the crushing of six tons of “blood ivory” in 2013. That same year, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton narrated an antipoaching documentary, White Gold.
Now comes a digital opponent to the continued killing of elephants and other endangered animals: WildLeaks. Modeled on the whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks, it provides witnesses with a way to report incidents of poaching, safely and anonymously. Established in February 2014 by natural scientist Andrea Crosta, an Italian military veteran, WildLeaks assesses each report it receives and investigates claims that seem legitimate. “There are a lot of people who know things,” Crosta tells M, “and we need to create the best conditions, including trust, for them to share whatever they know with us.”
According to Crosta, the most serious ongoing threat is the continued demand for ivory abroad: “The legal [ivory] market in Mainland China and Hong Kong is the single most important factor behind the poaching of elephants, and it creates the perfect environment for an illegal market, with illegal ivory being laundered into the legal trade, through the ivory-carving factories, the authorized shops, and the illegal retailers. The only hope to save the last elephants is to close down, for good, the legal market in China, where most of the illegal ivory from Africa is smuggled.”
So far, WildLeaks has received twenty-eight reports it has deemed serious. During an early investigation, Crosta says, WildLeaks came upon an offer from the Somali terrorist group Al-Shabaab to trade uranium for ivory. “We pretended not to be surprised,” he says, “and in my mind, I was already thinking, Which intelligence agency should I alert?”