Using Technology To Battle The Wildlife Trade
The illegal trade of wild animals threatens wildlife conservation by driving many species towards extinction. In addition, with profits of US$50-150 billion per year, poaching and illegally trading wildlife serves as a source of income for criminal and terrorist groups in Africa. Furthermore, reduced wildlife populations hurt affected communities’ revenues from tourism.
This article, published by The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), highlights several types of technology that have recently been developed to combat wildlife crime. Some technologies monitor areas of suspected criminal activity from above, taking pictures and collecting other data such as location. These forms of technology include drones, mikrokopters (similar to drones), acoustic traps (detect suspicious sounds then send drones to investigate), and satellite images.
Other technologies organize collected data and allow the public to make reports that keep wildlife officials informed. These forms of technology include illegal trade databases, mesh digital networks (extra secure ways to transmit information), and mobile apps. Still other technologies – such as radio collars and radio frequency identification tags – track individual animals to detect abnormal health and behavior. The article also includes technologies that derail wildlife criminals more directly by finding their traps (with metal scanners), tracking their movements (with camera traps), and producing evidence to be used against them in court (with DNA testing).
The article concludes by discussing the impact that modern technology should have on policy. Governments, along with conservation and law enforcement groups, should make greater investments in the future of anti-poaching technology. It is also important to work with entrepreneurs in the private sector who can provide technical and business skills. For example, the U.S. government launched the Technology Challenge on Wildlife Trafficking grant program for this purpose.
However, while new developments are important, the article notes that “new technologies cannot substitute traditional anti-poaching measures … A long term solution will require efforts to address supply and reduce demand, using methods that encourage deterrence, transparency, legal enforcement, behavioural change and alternative livelihoods.” For animal advocates, the emergence of new and more accessible monitoring technologies means that conservation groups themselves may be able to actively join in anti-poaching efforts, as long as it is safe to do so.[Contributed by Mona Zahir]