Scientists using online tools to track illegal wildlife

University of Adelaide researchers are using new surveillance tools to identify the illegal trade of exotic animals and plants.

Phill Cassey of the School of Biological Sciences, who heads up the Invasive Science and Wildlife Ecology Group, was recently involved in the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions Innovation Showcase at Parliament House, Canberra.

Phill Cassey at the CENTRE FOR INVASIVE SPECIES SOLUTIONS innovation showcase

Researcher Phill Cassey showcases his invasive species research to The Hon. Tanya Plibersek MP (Member for Sydney, Deputy Leader of Australian Labor Party) and Mr Graham Perrett MP (Member for Moreton, Queensland).

Dr Cassey showcased the University of Adelaide’s new digital-based surveillance systems of sophisticated web scraping tools to track the potential illegal trading of animals and plants.

This pivotal research is funded through the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS), of which University of Adelaide is a proud partner.

“Daily automated monitoring of Australian e-commerce sites for alien wildlife trade is continuing, says Dr Cassey.

“By focusing on a subset of this vast amount of data the project aims to cross reference advertisements of birds and reptiles with State and Territory laws to quantify the degree of illegal trade occurring online.”

Scientists are working on end-user requirements and translation of web-scraping tools into desktop applications. The volume of wildlife related trade on deep-web (user groups) and dark-web e-commerce sites is also being investigated.

“The over-arching goal of our project is to extract and tease apart the great deal of relevant online information that is available, using sophisticated techniques and analytical approaches, in order to assist biosecurity agencies and decision-makers to take early preventative action to protect the environment and economic activities such as agricultural and social assets,” says Dr Cassey. 

University of Adelaide researchers are also pioneering a new forensic chemistry technique to identify the provenance of illegal wildlife species.

CISS’s innovation showcase was hosted by the co-chairs of Parliamentary Friends of Primary Producers the Hon. Nola Marino MP and the Hon. Joel Fitzgibbon MP. Both Nola and Joel emphasised that pests and weeds were a ‘real issue’ in their respective electorates on both the east and west coast, and spoke about the need for innovation to achieve the vision for a feral-free Australia.

Dr Cassey said along with discussing his research and innovations with a number of federal MPs, senators and representatives from the research and development sector, he had particularly productive conversations with the Threatened Species Commissioner Dr Sally Box and acting Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer Elyse Herrald-Woods. He was also able to showcase the work to Animal Health Australia and Plant Health Australia.

Tagged in Engagement and Industry, Research, School of Biological Sciences, Environment Institute, Ecology, Environmental Science