Mr Hobbs was destined to become bear paw soup before an Australian businessman rescued the sun bear cub in Cambodia. Mr Hobbs has since safely taken up residence at Taronga Zoo with Mary, his partner who has joined him from Canberra's National Zoo.
Now more Australians here and overseas can set animals on the same path as Mr Hobbs through what is claimed to be a world-first smartphone app to report illegal wildlife trade.
The “Wildlife Witness” app, launched on Wednesday at Taronga Zoo, will enable travellers to record the precise location, take photographic evidence of suspected illegal trade and send the data to global monitoring network TRAFFIC.
“It can make it simple and easy for people to get involved in fighting illegal wildlife trade with us because it such a growing crisis around the world,” said Kira Husher, community conservation manager at Taronga.
Each day some 100 elephants will be killed as part of an illegal trade threatening wildlife worth at least $19 billion a year, zoo officials said. Travellers to South-east Asia will be a particular target given the region's active role as one of the fastest growing regions for the trade.
“Vietnam is rapidly escalating in its demand for rhino horn (from Africa)” Dr Husher said. “Thailand is renowned for being a huge demand country for ivory.”
Mark Williams, a zoo spokesman, said: “People want to help. We're putting some power in the hands of people to do something about this.”
The “Wildlife Witness” can be downloaded from Apple's iTunes, and will be available for Android smartphones within days. It will ensure anonymous disclosure of information but also allow users to see other locations where suspected illegal activity has been recorded.
Along with the app – supported by public funds and the Vodafone Foundation – Taronga Zoo has also joined Perth Zoo, Dreamworld and the National Zoo to fund a wildlife crime data analyst to work at TRAFFIC's regional base in Malaysia.
“Her role is to take all the wildlife crime data from across the region (including from the new app) and analyse them to identify the networks behind the trade,” Dr Husher said.
Dr Husher said groups backing the app have also had initial discussions with the federal government and will seek support from airlines and other organisations to help promote its take-up by travellers.
Fairfax sought comment from Greg Hunt, Minister for the Environment, about whether government agencies will promote the tool.
In an earlier statement, he endorsed its use: “The illegal wildlife trade is now a global crisis which is devastating wildlife populations around the world. By using this simple app, Australians can be part of a global effort to stamp out illegal wildlife trade.”