Back in July we shared a story on turtle egg poaching that was part of the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, created by USAID with the support of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Geographic Society, and TRAFFIC. The company with the fake turtle egg idea from that article was one of the sixteen winners of the competition, but a grand prize was announced for the four “most creative and impactful” ideas offered out of those winners. The four grand prize winners were announced this weekend at the World Conservation Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Honolulu, Hawaii. Christine Dell’Amore reports:
Every year about 10 million aquarium fish pass through United States ports, many on their way to new homes as family pets. But first, federal inspectors must leaf through mountains of paperwork on the animals, which are shipped from more than 40 countries around the world. “Until recently, the [inspectors] didn’t even have wireless access in the warehouses,” says Michael Tlusty, director of ocean sustainability and science at the New England Aquarium.
That’s why it can be easy to miss illegal wildlife trade—for instance, an endangered fish swimming about with other species that’s not declared on a shipment invoice. “Lots of wildlife gets hidden in plain sight,” according to Tlusty. “How do you know what’s in the box?”
Enter the aquarium’s new tablet-based platform that allows people to digitize and quickly track wildlife trade invoices, and then scan for discrepancies or red flags that point to illegal activity. “We want to develop this as a real-time solution,” Tlusty says. Inspectors “can go into the warehouse and use this tablet to decide if they should or should not inspect a shipment.”
The innovation is one of four grand prize winners of the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, a U.S.-based competition that, in 2015, put out a worldwide call for out-of-the-box strategies to tackle the colossal illicit trade in animal parts.
The black market network is worth at least $19 billion—rhino horn, for instance, is worth more than gold or cocaine, and can fetch $30,000 per pound ($13,500 per kilogram) on the black market. During the past ten years or so, wildlife trafficking has “escalated into an international crisis,” according to the U.S. National Strategy for Wildlife Trafficking.
“The idea is that if we harness the power of the crowd, if we try to reach non-traditional solution holders, we could solve messy, intractable development problems cheaper, faster, and with greater impact than traditional approaches,” says Sara Carlson, Biodiversity and Natural Resources Specialist for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Three hundred innovators from 52 countries submitted ideas to the competition, which is run by USAID in partnership with the National Geographic Society; the Smithsonian Institution; and TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring organization. A panel of nine judges whittled those down to 16 winners in January.
From that group came the four “most creative and impactful” grand prize winners, which share a combined award of $900,000, according to USAID. They were announced yesterday in Honolulu, Hawaii, which is hosting the quadrennial World Conservation Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
In addition to the aquarium, the winners include the University of Washington, which is setting up a system to pinpoint poaching hot spots for pangolin, or scaly anteaters—the world’s most trafficked mammal—by analyzing their DNA. The National Whistleblower Center, based in Washington, D.C., is producing a secure website for anyone to safely report wildlife crimes without fear of repercussion. And because so many animals are trafficked online, New York University is creating a computer model that can quickly identify when wildlife is illegally put up for sale. (See “Fighting Wildlife Crime: New U.S. Strategy Broadens Scope.”)
Read the rest of the article at National Geographic.