(This is the fifth and final post in a series about how engineers in different fields are helping protect wildlife. If you are interested in engineering and animals, check out the 2017 EngineerGirl essay contest.)
Illegal wildlife trafficking is a big business. TRAFFIC, an organization that monitors wildlife trade, estimates it is a business worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In addition to the devastating effect this kind of activity has on endangered animal populations, the profits often fund criminal enterprises that smuggle weapons, drugs, and people across international borders – threatening national security.
Engineers can be involved in fighting wildlife trade crimes in much the same way they help fight other crimes. They work with law enforcement to develop tools and technology to track criminals, collect and analyze evidence, and empower the public to help police stop illegal activity. These technologies to allow governments to provide animals protection over a wider area than would be possible with traditional resources.
The InstantWild project, for example, shows how good engineering can make a difference. Engineers created a rugged, motion-sensor activated camera that could be positioned in remote locations to photograph animals and poachers. Images are sent to conservationists hundreds or thousands of miles away through a satellite network. In addition, the general public can help out by identifying animals in the images using the InstantWild app.
Find out more about the engineering behind the InstantWild project in this YouTube video.
Engineers are also helping scientists develop other ways of monitoring animals populations: adapting drones to monitor and survey animal herds and developing self-powered wildlife tags to track vulnerable species. They are also working with other professionals to desgn state-of-the-art data collection tools that allow police in several countries to quickly share information and coordinate operations.
As populations of endangered animals dwindle, the threat from illegal wildlife trade becomes more pressing in two ways. First, every animal killed brings the population closer to extinction. Second, the growing scarcity increases the value of the illegally traded product. Untill all wildlife crime is stopped the need for designing and implementing solutions to protect rare animals will only increase.
What other tools for fighting wildlife crime do you think engineers will develop in the future?
Photo: Wild Elephants - Masai Mara, Kenya, by Subhadip Mukherjee.