Tigers are endangered by demand for their bones and pelts. Photos by Rhett A. Butler.
Stopping the illegal hunting and trafficking of endangered wildlife will require more innovative strategies and participation from a cross-section of society, to not only avoid buying and selling products of endangered wild animals, but also to put their talents and imagination to work to save elephants, rhinos, tigers, parrots, sharks, and other iconic species.
On that front, a coalition has launched an initiative, the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge to spark and drive investment in innovative science and technology solutions to help reduce the damage caused by wildlife trafficking. The initiative is backed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian Institution, and TRAFFIC.
The Challenge is a key component of the U.S. National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, which stems from an Executive Order from President Obama aimed at combating wildlife trafficking and the organized crime associated with it. The effort also has bilateral support in the US government.
Wildlife ranger recording signs of the Javan rhino in Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia.
Wildlife poachers are often linked to international criminal networks that take advantage of weak laws and enforcement, porous borders, and corrupt officials. Their violence and killing of iconic wildlife have devastating effects on local animal and human communities, both directly and by threatening local nature-based tourism, an important source of local revenue in many developing countries. The illegal killing occurs to meet the heavy demand for animal parts, often far from the animal’s native country.
The Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, therefore, focuses on four wildlife trafficking issues: 1) understanding and shutting down trafficking routes; 2) strengthening forensics tools and evidence to build strong criminal cases; 3) reducing consumer demand for illegal wildlife products; and 4) combating corruption along the illegal wildlife supply chain.
The Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, or WCTC, was announced on Earth Day, April 22, and it is accepting applications through June 30. Applicants should prepare a brief concept note outlining a creative and promising science and technology idea or design that will help reduce one or more of these wildlife trafficking concerns. The WCTC team hopes to receive applications from individuals and non-governmental institutions (including government-funded universities) across the globe, and Scott Hajost, Chief of Party of the WCTC, told Mongabay.com that the Challenge is now looking in particular for more applications from Latin American people and institutions.
This fall, judges will select finalists, who can then submit a full application eligible for a prize. From these, the WCTC will award prizes of US$10,000 to the most innovative, and promising science and technology concepts for each of the four issues. In 2016, the Challenge will invite winners to apply for Grand Prizes of up to $500,000 and provide them with opportunities for networking, funding, and technical assistance to help scale up their winning solutions.
If you or your colleagues have a design for technology that might address one of the four wildlife trafficking issues, submit your ideas to help solve one of the world’s most urgent problems by visiting www.wildlifecrimetech.org and applying today through June 30.