Innovation tackling the illegal wildlife trade

Innovation tackling the illegal wildlife trade

#Act for the Wild, #Conservation, #Taronga Conservation Society Australia

Posted on 04th March 2020 by Media Relations

At current estimates, the illegal wildlife crime is worth US$23 billion a year. It is often considered to be the fourth largest black market behind drugs, weapons and human trafficking. The well-organised crime syndicates are rapidly pushing iconic and endangered animals such as rhinos, elephants, pangolins and otters to the brink of extinction. Even sanctuaries established to protect animals aren’t safe from poachers. In 2019, 594 rhinos were poached in South Africa, 327 of them from the famous Kruger National Park.

It’s not just African or Asian animals that are at risk of poaching. The illegal wildlife trade of plants and animals is also occurring in Australia.

In the last twelve months multiple arrests were made in Melbourne and Sydney in relation to the illegal smuggling of Australian native reptiles.

What if harnessing the power of technology and innovation offers an opportunity to make a dent in the loss of animals and plants to criminals? These are just some of the stories of passionate individuals and teams that are helping tackle organised wildlife crime.

Wildlife Witness

In partnership with TRAFFIC, Taronga developed Wildlife Witness. This is the first global community action smartphone app to help tackle illegal wildlife crime. The app allows for tourists to report suspicious activity involving animals and plants that they might come across during their travels through South-east Asian countries. The data is then collected by TRAFFIC and passed onto the relevant enforcement agencies for follow-up. The app has already been downloaded more than 15,000 times and led to the intervention of black-market sales of species including pangolins, hornbills and slipper orchids.

DNA Barcode Scanner

Conservation X Labs has helped to develop a device that can be used to identify the source of a plant or animal using DNA. The device can be used in the field (handheld, battery powered and gives results in minutes), particularly in countries from where wild populations of plants and animals are taken by poachers and illegal traders. The device uses and adds to the Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) reference library, which contains over six million DNA sequences from more than 275,000 species.

Rainforest Connection

Rainforest Connection is a great example of using readily available resources to create a powerful tool for combating illegal deforestation and poaching of animals. The idea behind Rainforest Connection is simple – use old mobile phones to create audio devices that can be deployed in the field. Each phone has the potential to cover 2.5km2 of rainforest. When sounds such as chainsaws, gunshots and trucks are detected, the device sends real-time notifications to the relevant enforcement agencies to investigate and catch culprits. Aside from helping protect rainforests and animals, the device also collects audio information for research and conservation. 

Above are great examples of community driven ideas and products to help tackle the illegal wildlife trade. If you or someone you know has a brilliant idea for the planet, Taronga would love to hear from you. Check out the HATCH: Taronga Accelerator Program webpage for more information. Applications close 24 March 2020.


Image credit: Save Vietnam's Wildlife