Optimism on wildlife crime

We British have just launched the operational satellites for Project Eyes, which will be used to monitor illegal fishing in waters around the UK Overseas Territories…

“The system combines live tracking data from multiple satellites with information about a ship’s ownership, history and country of registration in order to analyse whether a vessel’s movements look suspicious. The analysis will involve cross-referencing four sets of data already collected through satellites and will be able to tell when vessels are not transmitting their positions, triggering automatic alerts. All alerts will be investigated by trained analysts so that governments and local law enforcement can be notified and action taken immediately.”

This is one aspect of a growing move to ‘robo-policing’ of wildlife crime, on which the 2014 U.N. GEAS overview article “Emerging Technologies: Smarter ways to fight wildlife crime” is an excellent primer on what has been proven to work. There’s also a GEAS overview article on “A new eye in the sky: Eco-drones” which have wider monitoring uses for region-level wildlife threats. Volcanos, for instance…

Drone footage from an erupting volcano, 2014.

Of course, ‘robo-policing’ isn’t going to be a one-stop solution. Poachers and pirates may well devise countermeasures, or move their activities to more degraded and less protected lands. Worse, we might displace their activities into other forms of criminality. Then there’s the more intractable problem of corruption, local poor people who log forests and catch animals because they’re desperate for money, and crazy old beliefs (“powdered rhino horn is a better aphrodisiac than Viagra and wine!”) that serve to fuel wildlife crime.