Enrico Di Minin is on the hunt for animal traffickers on social media

Enrico Di Minin, a recipient of top researcher funding from the European Research Council, became familiar with the living conditions of wildlife already as a child.

Enrico Di Minin, originally from Italy, spent his childhood in different African countries due to his engineer father's work duties.

“Seeing a pride of lions in their own habitat inside a national park is among my strongest childhood memories.”

Di Minin instantly took to animals and nature, eventually becoming an ecologist and conservationist.

“After realising the escalating speed of animal extinction, I wanted to study the underlying causes. Which human activities are a threat to other species?”

To understand the causes, Di Minin is investing in diversity. In his work, he is combining biology, geosciences, computer science, social sciences and economics, for starters.

“If you want to preserve rhinoceroses, elephants or pangolins, you quickly realise that you are actually investigating ways to support local economies to cope without poaching. Rhinoceroses and elephants are often killed due to the absence of alternative livelihoods.”

Certain cultural traditions significantly increase the demand for ivory and rhino horns. Their price is high.

“It is hard to change traditions and the related demand quickly. To protect animals, we must interfere with the supply chain.”

Recently, Di Minin was awarded a five-year ERC Starting Grant for research focused on trafficking. The European Research Council only grants funding for the very best. Initially, Di Minin will start assembling a multidisciplinary research group. The next step will be taking to social media to root out evil-doers, social media being one of the centres of trafficking

“My dream is to establish a group at the University of Helsinki that will become the world's number one in investigating trafficking, automatic content recognition and digital data analysis.”

Through machine learning, Di Minin’s group aims to develop tools to better uncover the trafficking process from among the data mass of social media.

“We will gladly provide functional tools also to authorities that are pursuing traffickers.”

This article was published in Finnish in the Y/07/18 issue of Yliopisto magazine.

Digital Geography Lab

Mas­ter's Pro­gramme in Eco­logy and Evol­u­tion­ary Bio­logy

Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science

University of Helsinki researchers funded by the European Research Council