January 30, 2015
- as seen by -Heidi Kretser
A beautiful fur coat, a knife handle inlaid with a suspicious solid white material, and a leather handbag covered in scales – all items that could be found recently in markets on United States military installations in Afghanistan, and all items that could threaten the existence of globally imperiled species such as snow leopards, elephants, and pangolins. Military police providing customs inspection duty have to decide if soldiers can bring items like these back to the U.S. or if the items violate any laws that protect against illegal wildlife trading, including the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the Lacey Act, and the Environment Law of Afghanistan.
The Wildlife Conservation Society and the Department of Defense developed the mobile app, Wildlife Alert, as a tool (phone screen, above right) for these officers. By asking some simple questions about a product, it can help them determine whether the item might be made from threatened or endangered species.
As of now, the app contains 75 species that are commonly traded in Afghanistan and the Middle East, and once it’s loaded onto a device, it works without an Internet connection. Military personnel, foreign contractors, and aid workers in the region will find this app a useful tool as they choose which items to bring home as souvenirs and gifts from the exotic choices along the Silk Road.