Tuesday, June 5, 2018

London Meeting Sets the Agenda for Technology to Fight Poaching of Endangered Species  

Government Lines Up Major Firepower Against Wildlife Crime but Accused of Hypocrisy at Home

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Shipping News Feature UK – WORLDWIDE – The disgraceful international trade in endangered species, and the poaching of protected species in general, casts a stain which extends as far as the shipping and forwarding sector. Often thought of as almost a cottage industry, in fact the illegal wildlife trade is worth up to £17 billion a year globally, and is a highly organised, sophisticated criminal business, a definition coming from no less than the British government.

With the forthcoming London 2018 Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in October in his sights, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has just brought together leading technology companies together with conservationists to develop new and innovative ways to combat this illicit trade. He proclaimed at a meeting this week:

“I’ve just come back from the Amazon, one of Earth’s natural wonders, where both animals and people are suffering at the hands of criminals who are committing horrible wildlife crimes. What I saw has only sharpened my determination to combat the blight of the illegal wildlife trade.

“I want to make sure we’re using all the great talent we have available to us to fight this problem, so I’m calling on our finest technological brains to help us in the battle to save some of the world’s most endangered species.”

At the event, co-chaired by the Minister for the Illegal Wildlife Trade, Mark Field, the gathering saw experts from companies including Google, Amazon Web Services, Cisco and Dimension Data, as well as umbrella body, techUK and government technology experts from Catapult centres, hear about the challenges to the conservation sector and discussions on how technology can assist in the fight against the criminals.

Last month, the government published its Ivory Bill which, when passed, it says will be one of the toughest bans on ivory sales in the world. This latest meeting is the first in a series that will take place throughout the summer in the run up to that Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in October. Further workshops will bring experts and conservationists together to deliver technological solutions to combat poaching, make it easier to identify illegal wildlife products at borders or to spot animals in danger in the field. techUK’s CEO Julian David said:

“Whether it is blockchain to support supply chain transparency and assurance or drones, satellites and the internet of things-enabled solutions to monitor activity in national parks and areas of high scientific interest, new tech is revolutionising conservation across the world. techUK and its members are excited to work with the FCO on a sector led approach to combating illegal wildlife crime.”

Domestically of course the government faces accusations of hypocrisy with the much maligned badger cull viewed critically by most scientists. Despite all evidence indicating that Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) is principally spread by farmers lacing the fields with waste from infected cattle, the farming lobby remain convinced that the disease is carried principally by badgers, arguably Britain’s most protected species, although it has now been found in deer, foxes and even packs of hunting dogs.

The cull has led to the authorised killing of thousands of badgers whilst the government agency responsible, DEFRA, has decried calls to vaccinate not exterminate, and failed to live up to its original promise of both testing for the disease and publishing the results of any testing. Now a new petition is looking for a further debate on the matter and, at the time of going to press, was approaching 125,000 signatures and seeing the total rising fast.

Ironically those seeking to prevent the success of the cull have in the past couple of years employed the very same high tech approach to identify sites where badgers are being trapped and killed by the ‘hunters’, with drones taking the same role to protect wildlife under threat.

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