Even mighty predators need protection from poachers to survive. Those who make it their business to safeguard big cats in the wild rely on big data for help.
According to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), there are now fewer than 3,500 wild tigers in their native Asian territory. Habitat destruction, the loss of prey, and the illegal trade in skins and bones contribute to the declining numbers, as they do for various species of leopards and lions.
International coordination needed
In 1996, the EIA launched a campaign to investigate the big cat trade and win support for its cause from governments and other organizations. Since much of the criminal activity crosses national borders, the agency needs the cooperation of transnational agencies and governments to coordinate enforcement and gather information.
Over the years, the EIA found the unstructured data had accumulated to the point of becoming unmanageable. It kept records on all the relevant crimes, but it found pulling out the key connections difficult. "In a trade characterised by repeat offenders, favoured trafficking routes and persistent trading hubs, EIA sought a smarter way to organize the information -- a method to interrogate and explore," Charlotte Davies, an EIA crime analyst, wrote in a blog post.
In 2006, the agency found a solution in an IBM big data system. According to IBM, the system made it possible to bring together "historical intelligence and investigation findings into one fully-searchable, stand-alone database."
For example, according to National Geographic, when the EIA was informed about an attempt to smuggle toxic chemicals, it was able to identify the parties by analyzing the transactions and names and comparing them with those from a decade-old case. "It then used the system to pull together a presentation to graphically demonstrate these links, which was shared with the relevant countries and spurred a follow-up investigation."
Matching names to mugshots
According to IBM, its Analyst's Notebook helped the agency find criminals using multiple names. "Analyst's Notebook's ability to map, smart match, merge and resolve entities helped to streamline associations and present a clearer picture of core involvement, correspondingly facilitating suspect targeting." It can also incorporate videos and photographs into the analysis.
National Geographic reported that a picture and location identification sealed the conviction for tiger poachers in Thailand last year. They poachers claimed the shooting took place in "an unprotected area in Myanmar," but the tiger's stripe pattern matched one recorded by a Wildlife Conservation Society stealth camera in a protected forest in Thailand. Like fingerprints, tiger stripe patterns are individually distinctive, and the poachers' picture was used to prove they had broken the law. One poacher was sentenced to four years in prison, and another was sentenced to five -- "the most severe punishment for wildlife poaching ever given in Thailand."
User Rank: Exabyte Executive 3/6/2013 | 1:02:52 PM
Re: Trailing the Tiger Trade with Big Data A sign of how new this all really is...at Coursera.org, a site for open education, only one course is on big data and web intelligence, and it's out of india. big data feels like a blend of *how* to think of data and *how* to program that data.
User Rank: Bit Player 3/5/2013 | 11:25:23 AM
Re: A good use of big data I agree, Susan. It's especially painful to see how animals are being exploited so much for selfish human consumption. It's refreshing to see how big data could impact things like the tiger trade.
User Rank: Bit Player 3/5/2013 | 11:24:19 AM
Re: Trailing the Tiger Trade with Big Data Exactly! I'm not surprised to hear that a teen came up with the solution. For one, it's out of the box. And it's a huge and welcome change from the usual line of thinking which is to shoot or kill the animals. Not saying that the older generation is limited in their thinking, but if that's what they saw or were taught growing up, then you can't exactly hope to change their spots at this point.
Re: Matching Names to Mugshots @Technetronic, that is certainly part of a wider discussion at the moment on EHR... We at least get concrete evidence of big data support through stories like this tiger tale. And it doesn't take much to see how those technologies can leap to the support of other problems.
Re: Trailing the Tiger Trade with Big Data @Susan Yes, amazing what a 13 year-old can come up with -- a simple solution for a problem that keeps livestock safe without harming lions. It shows there is an alternative to the in-the-box thinking that limits the options to kill or be killed.