From Pixels to Prosecution: Fighting Wildlife Crimes with Reverse Image Search

From Pixels to Prosecution: Fighting Wildlife Crimes with Reverse Image Search

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What is Reverse Image Search: Reverse Image Search is a technology that is used to find similar images on the internet by using an image as a query instead of text or key words. When an image is uploaded or a link to an image is provided on the Reverse Image Search Tool, it analyzes visual elements of the image like its texture, pattern, colour, shape etc. to identify similar images or pages that may contain matching images on the web. Google Images (, TinEye (, Bing Images (, Yandex Images ( etc. are some examples of Tools for reverse image search.

Reverse Image Search as a Powerful Tool for Wildlife Law Enforcement: Wildlife poaching and illegal trade have been posing a serious threat for biodiverity. Many flora & fauna species have already gone extinct, several species have become critically endangered & many more are on the verge of extinction. Wildlife law enforcement agencies need to stay ahead of poachers and traffickers to reverse this scenario. Reverse image search is a very powerful tool to support law enforcement officials in combating wildlife crimes not only on natural landscape but digital landscape as well.

This tool can be used for identification of protected animal & plant species. Supposing, wildlife law enforcement officer come across instances of some plant or animal species being offered for sale in a market or on some social media, e-commerce or darkweb platforms. But before taking law enforcement action he has to be  sure whether those species are protected under law or otherwise. Reverse image search tool can assist him in that. For example, wildlife official finds some product being offered on some social media site claiming to be having medicinal properties. Following was the photo of that product:

The wildlife law enforcement officer can do reverse image search of this photo. When this photo is uploaded on Google Images, following similar images were found about this product:

 By reverse image search, it was found that this product is root of a medicicinal plant "Saussurea lappa" which is protected under "Appendix - I of CITES". Also, informations about other instances of this protected species being offered for sale on various social media, e-commerce sites were also detected. Now the law enforcement  action can be planned and executed against all who are illegally trading in this protected species.

Let's take another example. Suppose one day wildlife enorcement officer finds that a medical store is selling some medicine with images of pangolin on its box:

The description on the box is in some other language which the office does not understand. He can simply click a picture of this and upload on a reverse image search tool like Google Images. When he does that, following similar images were found on the web:

By reverse image search, the wildlife law enforcement officer finds similar images on various websites with detail description about the product which makes it clear that this product contains ingredients of "pangolin body parts" which is a critically endangered species and protected under "Appendix - I of CITES". Now he can take enforcement action against the perpetrator.

Thus by leveraging reverse image search tools, wildlife enforcement agencies can not only identify the species including exotic species being illegally traded, but also collect information about the various code names being used by wildlife traffickers for a particular wildlife contrabands, various digital platforms being used for trade of wildlife contrabands and the persons/entities involved in wildlife trafficking. All these details can be shared by the wildlife law enforcement agencies with the digital platforms so that they can provide the details of the individuals who have posted those wildlife contrabands on their platform to the law enforcement agencies on the one hand and on the other hand incorporate them as risk indicators in their machine learning based algorithms to proactvely red flag instances of illegal wildlife trade on their digital platforms to the law enforcement agencies for taking appropriate legal action against the wildlife traffickers.

Lots of cyber fraudters are also active on the cybersapce. For an undercover wildlife crime investigator on a cyberspace, he has to first ensure that the wildlife contraband offered for sale on digital platform is actually in possession of that person or he has simply taken the image of that wildlife contraband from internet and posted on some digital platform claiming possession of the same and his readiness to sale. Such fraudsters after taking advance money for supplying the wildlife contraband to the buyers disappear from the web. He can check this with the help of reverse image search tool. For example, suppose wildlife official comes across a Facebook post offering a leopard skin for sale. He has posted the following image of the leopard skin on his Facebook account:

When the wildlife enforcement official does the reverse image search for this image on Google Images, he finds the following:

From above it is clear that this image of leopard skin was taken from the internet and posted by that person on his Facebook account. In this case the wildlife enforcement officer can ask Facebook to block this post from public viewing. He should not waste his resources any more on this and focus on actual wildlife traffickers.

Now let me discuss how reverse image search tool can assist wildlife law enforcement in identifying the location of wildlife crime even from a video. Supposing, a wildlife enforcement officer comes across a YouTube video showing killing of a tiger by a group of people. The enforcement officer can capture clear screenshots from the YouTube video that provide clear view of surroundings, landmarks, signs, vegetation, buildings, landscape etc. Then he can do reverse image search of those screenshots. When the search is complete, the officials can analyze those similar images which may provide some clues regarding the location of tiger killing.

In case of images from which metadata have been removed by social media sites before posting it on their platforms or by the poacher, illegal wildlife traders so that they can't be linked to the scene of wildlife crime through metadata that includes geographical coordinates (latitudes, longitudes) of the place where photo was taken, reverse image search can help law enforcement in linking the suspect with scene of crime. When this is corroborated with other evidences like his loaction on date and time of wildlife crime at the  scene of crime gathered from his Call Detail Record/Google Maps Timeline etc., this can be a crucial evidence for prosecution of the wildlife offender.

To conclude, harnessing innovative technological solutions like reverse image search tools can play a significant role in detecting instances of wildlife crimes, identifying the perpetrators, bringing them to justice and protecting our wildlife heritage. With tools like Reverse Image Search, Wildlife Law Enforcement is better equipped to counter the menace of wildlife trafficking.

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