Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Children's Hospital Boston unveil new interactive wildlife trade map:

BOSTON (February 16, 2012) – The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Children's Hospital Boston unveiled today a new digital tool to improve monitoring of illegal trade in wildlife and the disease risks it may present to people and animals. The announcement was made at the International Conference on Digital Disease Detection in Boston.

Called “HealthMap Wildlife Trade Map ” (www.healthmap.org/wildlifetrade ), the tool marks the first effort to use global media to comprehensively track the illegal trade in wildlife and wild animal products. Since so much of the trade is illegal, its exact value is unknown, but is generally thought to be exceeded only by the illegal trade in drugs and arms. In spite of this, it is largely unmonitored by official channels for law enforcement.

Until now, the main data used for estimating the scale and scope of the trade were official records of interceptions through CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) enforcement and official import-export records, as well as records of confiscations mainly from official government agencies.

HealthMap Wildife Trade Map makes it possible to aggregate the many sources of official data with additional information from multiple publicly-available sources, including newspapers, internet, and other publicly available media.

“Media reports and other non-government sources can provide unprecedented insight into global wildlife trade and associated disease risks by helping us visualize underground networks which have continued to elude the traditional monitoring mechanisms,” said Dr. John Brownstein of Children’s Hospital Boston, who is leading the project.

Dr. Damien Joly of the Wildlife Conservation Society, said: “The wildlife trade is a mechanism for diseases that affect humans to move around the world, and has been implicated in the emergence of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza and SARS. This new tool will help us track and better understand the trade and disease risks that it poses.”

HealthMap has been combining official data with informal real-time media stories and reports from the public since 2006. Mapping these diverse sources of information has helped the global health community, travelers and the world at large to know where outbreaks of infectious diseases are occurring as they occur. Applying these tools to map the wildlife trade is a novel application of this technology.

Public Health threats from zoonotic pathogens found in the wildlife trade in countries throughout Southeast Asia, Central Africa and Latin America are being studied as part of the USAID Emerging Pandemic Threats/PREDICT project, a University of California, Davis-led endeavor to improve the world’s ability to detect and respond to emerging diseases of wildlife origin. In addition to WCS, other partners on the PREDICT project include EcoHealth Alliance, the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Through the global wildlife trade, wild animals including endangered animals listed in CITES and IUCNs Red List of threatened species are collected from wild habitats and sold live as pets, food or research animals, and sold dead for their parts to be made into traditional Asian medicines, luxury goods, trophies and many other items.

The Wildlife Trade Map recently catalogued traded items including engraved sperm whale teeth, owls given to children in India (an act inspired by the Harry Potter films), tiger penises, and endangered coral to be used for fashion accessories.

The U.S. is a major importer of illegal wildlife products. A collaborative study between the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Ecohealth Alliance and the Wildlife Conservation Society recently detected zoonotic viruses in illegal bushmeat confiscated at John F. Kennedy airport in New York City and other ports of entry.

Launched in 2006, HealthMap provides real-time disease outbreak monitoring and presents information from Web-based data sources including blogs, listservs, chatrooms, online news reports and official alerts in one view. The site, which recently released a mobile version called “Outbreaks Near Me ” for the iPhone and Android and incorporates user-submitted information, averages 10,000 unique visits a day and includes regular users from the World Health Organization, the CDC, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. 

Stephen Sautner, Wildlife Conservation Society: 1-718-220-3682; ssautner@wcs.org
John Delaney, Wildlife Conservation Society: 1-718-220-3275; jdelaney@wcs.org
Erin Tornatore, Children’s Hospital Boston: 1-617-919-3110 ; erin.tornatore@childrens.harvard.edu

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the Flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes toward nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth. 

Founded in 1869 as a 20-bed hospital for children, Children’s Hospital Boston has been ranked as one of the nation’s best pediatric hospitals by U.S.News & World Report for the past 21 years. Children’s is the primary pediatric teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School and the largest provider of health care to Massachusetts children. In addition to 395 pediatric and adolescent inpatient beds and 228 outpatient programs, Children’s houses the world’s largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center, where its discoveries benefit both children and adults. More than 1,100 scientists, including nine members of the National Academy of Sciences, 11 members of the Institute of Medicine and nine members of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute comprise Children’s research community.