Special Report

Five Ways to Fight Wildlife Crime in the Digital Age

From GPS-tagged eggs to smartphone apps, these emerging technologies could help give endangered species a chance at survival

White rhinos graze in Nakuru National Park, Kenya. ( Denis-Huot/Nature Picture Library/Corbis)

Elephants, tigers, sharks and pangolins are only a few of the many animals pressured by the multi-billion-dollar industries of poaching and illegal wildlife trade. The intense demand for certain creatures as exotic pets, medicines, trophies and luxury foods is pushing many species towards extinction. 

In an effort to end this wide-reaching problem, the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge put out a call last spring for new technologies that can be used to stop trafficking—from detecting transit routes to tackling corruption. This competition is an initiative of the U.S. Agency for International Development, with support from the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. Global Development Lab and the international conservation agency TRAFFIC.

The challenge recently announced 16 prize-winning projects selected from 300 applicants around the world. Each winner will receive $10,000 and technical support to put their projects in motion, as well as a chance to apply for a $500,000 grand prize. Here's a peek at five of these high-tech solutions to fighting wildlife crime:

The Trees Have Eyes

Electronic-eye technology, or E-eye for short, provides around-the-clock monitoring of sensitive regions. This system combines short-range infrared cameras with long-range thermal and motion sensing devices that are mounted at the top of watch posts positioned throughout a park.

It’s creators, Ravikant Singh and Raja Brij Bhushan of Binomial Solutions, saw the challenge as an opportunity to bring wildlife crime tech into a new era. “New technologies are taking over the world, except for this particular field,” says Bhushan.

The real-time monitoring system watches over a park day and night, alerting response teams with a text message or email at the first signs of human movement in restricted areas. It gets teams on the ground before a poacher can do harm. One of the many notable features of this tech is that it works in all conditions—day or night, sunny or stormy—when human monitoring is either not possible or less effective.

The engineers have installed the system in three parks in India. Since the first went live in 2011, illegal entries have been reduced drastically, says Bhushan. “People have this fear that ‘if we go, we will be trapped,’” he adds. With their winnings in hand, the duo hopes to install the tech in at least three or four more parks in the coming years.

About Maya Wei-Haas
Maya Wei-Haas

Maya Wei-Haas is the assistant editor for science and innovation at Smithsonian.com. Her work has appeared on National Geographic and AGU's Eos and Plainspoken Scientist.

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