Indian pangolin or anteater

Indian pangolin, or anteater, one of the most trafficked wildlife species.

Interdisciplinary Team Tackles Wildlife Trafficking

Researchers Renata Konrad and Kyumin Lee are part of a team that is bringing together law enforcement, scientists, and policy makers to help detect and thwart wildlife trafficking.

Konrad, associate professor in The Business School, and Lee, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science, are co-principal investigators on the 18-month project, which is funded by a $265,998 National Science Foundation planning grant. Principal investigator is Meredith Gore, associate professor in the Department of Geographical Sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Wildlife trafficking involves the illegal capture and trade of protected animals and their byproducts—everything from eels to ivory. It impacts thousands of species and is estimated to generate billions of dollars in revenue annually worldwide.

“Wildlife trafficking is a poorly understood global problem that poses threats to animals, people, ecosystems, and national security,” Konrad says. “The goal of this planning grant is to prioritize a research agenda for the nexus of engineering, computer and information science, and the social sciences to deploy their expertise to develop tools that will help law enforcement identify and disrupt trafficking networks.”

Wildlife trafficking is a poorly understood global problem that poses threats to animals, people, ecosystems, and national security.

Renata Konrad

Both Lee and Konrad have previously focused their research on malicious human activity. Lee has used machine learning and predictive modeling to build algorithms to detect fake product reviews and disinformation online. Konrad, an expert on supply chains, has explored how data analytical tools could be used to disrupt the supply chains that sustain human trafficking.

Wildlife trafficking is particularly difficult to detect and disrupt because it exists alongside legal trade in wild animals and their products. In addition, laws differ from country to country according to species and cultural traditions. In the United States, smuggled wildlife often travels through port or border cities. Criminals work together in physical and virtual networks, sometimes exploiting social media and other online platforms.

The researchers are convening a series of meetings with experts to gather ideas for a future research agenda. An initial meeting with financial service providers, law enforcement, wildlife agencies, and others who are fighting trafficking was held virtually in June.

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