The Pandemic Poachers by InfoNile
The Pandemic Poachers cross-border investigation was reported by 13 journalists from the InfoNile network in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and South Sudan over one year and contains original data analysis and field reporting tracking wildlife crime in 7 countries in East Africa before and after the Covid-19 pandemic. The project was produced in partnership with Code for Africa with funding from the Earth Journalism Network and JRS Biodiversity Foundation. The investigation, cross-published on media houses in East Africa, includes interactive maps, drone imagery, podcasts and videos to shed light on the impacts of Covid-19 on wildlife conservation in a critical region. Pandemic Poachers found that the Covid-19 pandemic presented unique threats to wildlife conservation in a region where tourism has historically funded the conservation sector. Our data analysis showed that while international wildlife trafficking dropped due to border closures, local poaching increased as poverty worsened.
Pandemic Poachers was published widely with both an international and local reach, serving as a call to action to conserve nature in a time of crisis. The final digital project brings together 10 in-depth stories published by 11 major media houses in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan and internationally including online platforms, newspapers, TV stations and radio stations. The final digital project was also cross-published by three other media houses in the region.
The stories were reported by 9 East African journalists in the InfoNile network following a 5-week training by InfoNile in data journalism, solutions journalism and wildlife conservation reporting, conducted online during the lockdown. The journalists received individual mentorship, editing and data visualization support by InfoNile and Code for Africa.
Some journalists said their stories inspired their media houses to do more data and environmental journalism. Dorcas Wangira, of Citizen TV in Kenya, said “Not many people, even in the newsroom knew what pangolins were and didn’t see the value in telling this story. If I had not pitched this story to InfoNile, I wouldn’t have published it. Mentorship was extremely valuable. And having a focus group pursuing similar stories kept me going. This multimedia article is a first on our website - the data visualization helped add an aesthetic evidence-based quality. FAO added the story to their datalab, which shows the story has a global appeal. The engagement and dialogue we had from our audiences was very rich. I am now pursuing more stories on One Health, with more scientists reaching out after watching and reading my story.”
To produce the final investigation, we requested data from the Environmental Investigation Agency, which tracks wildlife crime from sources including Google searches, law enforcement agencies, court verdicts, intergovernmental agency reports, and other wildlife crime organizations. We received spreadsheets of all illegal wildlife seizures from 2010-2020 from 7 countries: Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. We then analyzed the data quantitatively by country per year by the number of incidents, number of species, total reported weight of illegal wildlife products, number of arrests, and number of each transport method, and qualitatively by the nature of specific cases that occurred after the onset of Covid-19.
We also sourced local poaching data from governments in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, shapefiles on protected areas in East Africa, and statistics on the tourism industry in the three countries, which largely funds wildlife conservation and was heavily affected by Covid-19.
From this data, with support from Code for Africa we produced 12 interactive data visualizations and two interactive maps using the online tool Flourish. Data visualizations included column charts and stacked column charts, area charts and stacked area charts, line and bar charts, grids of charts, a moving symbol map and a chloropleth map.
Our field reporting by 13 journalists in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and South Sudan also used multimedia technologies. In the 10 local stories and the final investigation, we used podcasts, videos, animated data visualizations, drone video and images, mobile journalism, and illustrations.
The structure and design of the final online investigation was uniquely developed for this story using Elementor Pro, a Wordpress website builder.
We also produced a mobile magazine summary of the project using Canva and Photoshop, designed and shared uniquely on Whatsapp.
Our investigation showed how journalists can merge solutions-based reporting with investigative and data-driven journalism. Although the project investigated concerning trends in how Covid-19 has affected wildlife conservation in East Africa, several of the stories in the project were solutions based, highlighting local models that have proven beneficial to conserving wildlife. Before Covid-19, the East African region was celebrating a decade-long decline in wildlife trafficking. The solutions we highlighted included a story on the Ajai wildlife reserve in northern Uganda, which has seen increases in wildlife populations after the local communities signed MoUs to conserve wildlife while benefiting from beekeeping and agroforestry activities within the reserve. Another story looked at how the Giraffe Center in Nairobi has helped save an endangered species. Merging such solutions stories with critical analysis on the concerning impacts of the pandemic provided in-depth information on working models, as well as what is now needed in order to protect these gains in wildlife conservation during this unique crisis.
CreditsReporting by: Richard Drasimaku, Davis Buyondo, Sarah Mawerere, Annika McGinnis and Fredrick Mugira in Uganda, Sharon Atieno, Lenah Bosibori, Linah Mwamachi, Tom Mwiraria and Dorcas Wangira in Kenya, Prosper Kwigize and Florence Majani in Tanzania and Majok Guet Kuol in South Sudan Data Visualizations and Data Mentorship by: InfoNile and Code for Africa: Annika McGinnis, Daniel Odongo, Rogers Mukalele, Ruth Mwizeere, Tricia Govindasamy, Sakina Salem, Emma Kisa, Joseph Dokhare, Mercy Karagi and Stephanie Nekesa Story Design: Sakina Salem Video Producer and Voicer: Andrew Aijuka Principal Investigators and Editors: Annika McGinnis and Fredrick Mugira Project Coordination and Communications: Alis Okonji and Ruth Mwizeere InfoNile Country Coordinators and Translators: Geoffrey Kamadi, Florence Majani and Esther Ndagire This project was supported by: Earth Journalism Network and JRS Biodiversity Foundation and produced in partnership with Code for Africa