This week, I have the pleasure of announcing the global winners of our 2021 Zoohackathon competition. This event brought together university students and coders across the globe to create innovative technology solutions to help combat wildlife trafficking — a multibillion-dollar industry run often by the same criminals who traffic in guns, drugs, and people.
Driven by consumer demand for exotic food, medicine, pets, and luxury goods – ranging from live wildlife to wildlife parts like pangolin scales, elephant ivory, tiger skins, and rhino horns – wildlife trafficking fuels corruption from local communities to national governments, and threatens countries’ national security and economic prosperity. On a global level, wildlife trafficking is fueling a dramatic decline in species populations, spreading disease, and undermining the integrity of ecosystems important for human wellbeing.
Combating nature crime, including wildlife trafficking, requires local, national and international action, working across political spectrums and including public and private participation. As a leader in this fight against traffickers and organized criminal groups, the United States believes that innovative technologies offer new solutions to serious conservation problems.
For example, camera traps with built-in artificial intelligence can help rangers on the ground identify threats in real time, so they can stop poaching before it happens. Smart phone apps have the potential to enable everyday people to report illegal wildlife products in marketplaces, such as traditional medicines containing endangered species like tiger bones and pangolin scales. Lastly, sophisticated databases can help wildlife enforcement officials share sensitive information in order to apprehend wildlife traffickers. By adapting ‘every day’ technology, we can work to end nature crime at its source.
The Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs is working to be part of the solution and to inspire the next generation of conservation-minded coders. Through , not only have we collaborated with these talented participants, we have also built partnerships across governments, the private sector, and intergovernmental stakeholders, raised public awareness, and strengthened international cooperation in the global fight against wildlife trafficking. We have encouraged Zoohackathon teams to develop concrete, usable solutions that have real potential to combat wildlife trafficking.
Our 2021 competition brought together more than 360 participants from 15 countries around the world who developed 83 innovative technology solutions. And, I am proud to announce the global winning solutions:
- Global Winning Solution: Found, created during the Vietnam Zoohackathon, has the potential to help enforcement officials interdict trafficked wildlife by enabling the general public to report wildlife being sold online or in person. The tool also leverages machine learning to help identify species submitted in these reports. After the reports are submitted into the app, appropriate officials could evaluate the cases and intervene.
- Two Solutions Tied for Second Place – Bio Solutions, created during the Central America/Dominican Republic Virtual Zoohackathon, leverages machine learning to automatically identify trafficked wildlife on social network platforms. And, Dunia, developed during the Democratic Republic of the Congo Zoohackathon, is a game that helps raise awareness of local communities about flora and fauna.
- Third Place: SAWA, developed during the Bolivia Zoohackathon, is an app that allows local communities to report incidents where animals and wildlife products are being sold illegally.
Congratulations to our winners!
About the Author: Monica Medina is the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the Department of State.