The growth and commercialisation of the open source internet has greatly modified the environment in which pet markets and illegal wildlife traders can operate. Given the complex and cryptic nature of these online networks, the development of advanced web intelligence techniques is core to the successful disentanglement of the trade. As online trade platforms and networks grow, so too does the inadvertent risk of new vertebrate introductions and invasions, as a result of intentional or unintentional release.
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 (e.g., agricultural and social assets).
Our project will develop novel approaches for understanding the nature of exotic pet keeping, illegal vertebrate trade in Australia, and alien species incursions.
The objectives of the project are to develop efficient surveillance and identification tools for:
The project receives funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment
February 2021 update:
Web scrapers continue to be used across a broad range of internet marketplaces and automated data processing has been successfully trailed. So far over 25 thousand internet listings have been manually cleaned for validation of software tools. Ethics approval has been granted for monitoring wildlife trade on social media. A key word search of the dark web, and analysis of illegal pet trade on the open web has commenced, illegal detections have been notified/provided to State agencies.
August 2020 update:
Daily automated monitoring of Australian e-commerce sites for alien wildlife trade is continuing, with a total of 53 custom web scrapers built so far. 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. Design is also underway for Natural language processing models to automatically detect species being traded over the internet.
The next phase of this project will focus 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.
February 2020 update:
This project continues to seek input from the Environment and Invasives Committee (EIC) and State/Territory Government agencies regarding outputs from constructing and publishing web-scraping tools and outputs. A focus on stakeholder engagement will provide avenues for this project to test outputs and tools within the life of this project.
August 2019 update:
To combat the illegal trade of non-native species, this project is designing, testing and implementing automated web-scraping tools to analyse exotic live animal trade websites in Australia, United States and Europe. One finding of this project over 2018-19 is that trade in live vertebrates in the United States is a robust estimator of preference for alien vertebrates in Australia. Consistent with U.S. trade activity, the project has found, on Australian e-commerce sites, evidence for Illegal trade in non-native reptiles and grey-listed ornamental fish.
Bone and scute samples of Red-eared slider turtles have had preliminary isotopic and ablation laser analyses performed with the results being prepared for publication. A pilot study to determine specimen provenance (captive, wild, international) from analyses of stable isotope ratios has been completed and submitted for publication.
February 2019 update:
This project has collated two decades of chordate interception records from state and commonwealth reporting agencies. These data have been interrogated for summary statistics and general trends relating to chordate interceptions in Australia over time. The team has identified pathways and commodities associated with high levels of pre-border chordate interceptions and identified new exotic incursion threats to Australia.