Big Data. Big Cats. Big Hearts.

As parents, you are constantly presented with opportunities to teach your children good (and bad) lessons in life.  As it was for me, last month, when my two daughters wanted to explore their new found philanthropy, setting up a toy store at their local sporting club to raise money for WWF so they could help “save the animals”.

Sitting there for four hours, encouraging them to be generous and sacrifice some of their much loved toys to protect our endangered species, it reminded me of one of my favorite examples of how data and insight is being used to fundamentally make the world a better place.

There are many things that threaten the existence of some of Earth’s most incredible creatures, one of which is the illegal trade of endangered animals and their habitats.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has for a long time been a leader in conducting covert investigations, using dangerous on-the-ground detective work to expose criminal organisations that thrive in local and global trade of endangered animals.  A key influencer in the introduction of ivory bans, EIA are continuously trying to find ways to stay ahead of criminal gangs profiting from tigers, elephants and illegal timber.  One mission close to my heart (and that of my budding global animal warriors) is their mission to protect the last of Asia’s endangered big cats – including the tiger, leopard, snow leopard and clouded leopard – which face a multitude of threats from habitat degradation, prey and poaching.

It’s no surprise that over the years, EIA have captured a wealth of information on the illegal animal trade – from video surveillance, to images, to documented persons of interest and their connections.  However, because this information was stored in various formats and systems, and has grown significantly with more sophisticated criminal networks, it was difficult to manually map the various players and illegal transactions in order to find connections of interest and share intelligence with government and international law enforcement partners.

EIA turned to IBM’s Big Data platform to find a better way to manage and analyze the wealth of information available to them, with the view to rapidly uncover hidden trends and patterns in time to take action.  Using IBM i2 software, EIA were able to map individuals to multiple aliases, merge and resolve common entities to streamline associations and present a clear picture of core involvement to aide suspect targeting.  They were also able to critically visualize criminal networks to communicate with enforcement partners and execute a coordinated effort to identify and stop illegal trade.

Originally created to help Big Cats, the EIA Big Data platform has since been expanded to help with other illegal and destructive activities, including the rise in the ivory trade and the ransacking of precious forests.  Together with IBM, EIA are fighting crime with actionable intelligence so that my children, and yours, grow up in a world where animals of all species thrive in the wild.

You too can help — donate to the Environmental Investigation Agency to help protect the environment with intelligence, or WWF to help conserve natural resources for the next generation.