Wildleaks provides new outlet for wildlife whistleblowers

Put yourself in this situation: you’re traveling abroad and notice a street vendor with a large collection of wild animal pelts and products, some of them appear to be elephant tusks. What do you do? The right answer can be hard to come by. Unfamiliarity with foreign hunting laws and governing bodies that oversee wildlife crime can lead to inaction causing more animals to lose their lives. Now there is a simple answer– Wildleaks.org. Founded in early February by Andrea Crosta, native Italian and executive director of the Elephant Action League, an elephant watchdog aimed at reducing elephant exploitation. Wildleaks.org has the same leak–driven business model as Wikileaks, but focuses solely on wildlife and forest crime. Andrea Crosta took some time to speak with us about his Wildleaks project.
Why setup Wildleaks?
AC: “I have over 24 years experience in conservation. From my past work I saw in many fields these leaks actually work, if it’s presented and managed in a professional way. I thought let’s do something like that for wildlife and forest crime. I want to reassure the person who has crucial information that they will remain anonymous and we will do all we can to fulfill our mission to prevent wildlife crimes, and prosecute anyone behind those crimes.”
How many leaks have you had so far?
AC: “It’s really surprising, we launched Wildleaks between the 7th and 10th of February this year, and started receiving leaks after 24 hours. We receive a couple of leaks everyday, and the scary part, but also the encouraging part, is that we are still virtually unknown.”
Could you take me through the process from receiving a tip to actually putting some one away for a wildlife crime?
AC: “First we receive the leak and start evaluating it to separate a good leak from a bad one. Very surprisingly so far we haven’t received any unusable tips. After we evaluate the information, we have 4 options. We can begin or continue an investigation ourselves. When an investigation for any reason is not considered the most effective option we can share this information with law enforcement agencies. The third option is to leak the information to the media, and media partners. The fourth option is to do nothing. If the leak we’re receiving is not enough to start anything then we keep it in a drawer. Or if our group thinks that by using this information we will actually endanger the life of the source then we won’t use it.”
How long after I submit a leak will I be contacted by Wildleaks?
AC: “That’s the point, and beauty of the system, I cannot contact you unless you decide in your submission to give me your email, which actually we don’t encourage at all. However, you can contact us with a 10–digit number we provide after a leak is submitted. With this 10–digit number you can get back to us in an anonymous way, and get back to the original submission, to either add more information, or open an anonymous chat with us.”
Is there a hierarchy for how you go about prosecuting wildlife crime?
AC: “There is no such thing, it’s really case–by–case. Tips go through the validation process in collaboration with some of our partners, it can take minutes or sometimes weeks. There is no such thing as giving priority to one or another one.”
How big is the Wildleaks team?
AC: “The group that actually works on the leaks is 5 people we are keeping it small on purpose; otherwise you get all kinds of issues including security. We have another 3–4 volunteers, but they really do not get in contact directly with the leaks. The volunteers help us with languages, and in open discussions with our partners.”
How can someone help Wildleaks?
AC: “Even more important than donations, those of course are always welcome, is to spread the word about WildLeaks. Wildleaks is effective and will bring to the table real changes if it is known and trusted. Because sometimes you are witnessing a crime, or you know about a crime, but you just don’t know where your information can be useful, if you know something, there is Wildleaks.”
Is there anything else we should know about Wildleaks?
AC: “We are always looking for the right partners in the right locations– talking about media, to share certain stories if and when we have them. We would like to develop a worldwide network of media partners that believe in this initiative. They can contact us at info[at]wildleaks.org and we’ll evaluate each request.”
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