Rampant poaching across Africa has pushed species of elephants, rhinos and other treasured wildlife to the edge of extinction. However, there is a mostly untapped resource that can help crack down on these crimes: the Wildlife Whistleblower Program.
The program, an initiative of the National Whistleblower Center in Washington, allows witnesses to report wildlife crimes online, anonymously if they so choose. Reportable crimes include illegal poaching and trafficking, destruction of rainforests, and the improper netting of dolphins.
The international program provides confidentiality and monetary rewards to those who report such crimes if a case is successfully prosecuted.
The Washington-based Whistleblower Center describes itself as a legal advocacy organization that protects "the right of individuals to report wrongdoing without fear of retaliation."
Chief operating officer Ashley Binetti says the wildlife program was created after the executive director realized U.S. wildlife laws that include rewards have not been fully implemented.
She thinks that will change as people with knowledge of such crimes realize that their identities will be kept confidential.
"[It's] now a two-fold endeavor," she said. "One aspect is educating potential whistleblowers about this opportunity and the other side is creating a safe online reporting platform whereby individuals with information can come forward with that, report it, and then be connected to attorneys who will help them transmit that information to appropriate law enforcement."
"It's not like you're reporting to a tip line where you don't know that your information is going to remain confidential," Binetti said.
She says another element of the anti-poaching project is the potential for monetary rewards.
"Whistleblower rewards have been incredibly successful and there is all the reason to believe that that model can be replicated in terms of energizing wildlife whistleblowers and reversing the extinction crisis," she said.
Link to US
Binetti says anyone with knowledge of a wildlife crime can contact the center and be eligible for an award, with one caveat.
"The crime can occur anywhere, but it does have to have a tie to the U.S. But under these laws, that can be quite broad," she explained. "For example, with the Lacey and Endangered Species acts, if a [wildlife product] is destined for the United States or is leaving the U.S. or a U.S. person is involved, there is potential liability there.".
Another law that can be applied to wildlife crime is the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which criminalizes bribery that would allow illicit goods onto ships and planes.
"So whereas you have the wildlife crime laws that haven't been fully implemented in terms of the whistleblowing provisions, you have the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that is a really great route to start, [though] we haven't seen it used in this context as best that it can be," Binetti said.
To report a wildlife crime, witnesses should visit the National Whistleblower Center website at: wildlifewhistleblower.org\submit-a-report.