By Gabriela Motroc
Poachers have been on a killing spree for years, but it seems that hackers are now the new threat to endangered animals because of cyberpoaching, which makes it easier for them to track the GPS location technology and obtain an easy prey. World Wildlife Fund has concluded that the wildlife-trafficking industry is worth $7.8 to $10 billion per year and parts from a single tiger can cost up to $50,000 on the black market. Cyberpoaching is a relatively new term and the first hacking attempt occurred last year when a poacher reportedly tried to hack a Bengal tiger’s GPS collar in the Panna Tiger Reserve. Since then, many proactive conservationists have been trying to prevent hackers from targeting easy kills like collared endangered animals.
The World Wildlife Fund estimated that there are 3,200 tigers left in the wild and only 2,500 are breeding adults and Madhya Pradesh lost every tiger to poaching four years ago. Nowadays, hackers are a real threat to endangered animals because of cyberpoaching, which only requires them to hack the animals’ GPS location technology and obtain an easy prey. Although the security breach which happened last July at Panna Tiger Reserve did not result in killing the two-and-a-half-year-old Bengal tiger that wears a collar worth $5,000, proactive conservationists are now trying to find a method to fight back the imminent threat, namely cyberpoaching.
Since the breach, Panna-211, the collared tiger was moved to Bori Satpura Tiger Reserve and a team of wildlife officials “stay within 1,600 feet of the tiger at all times to deter poachers.”
Shivani Bhalla, National Geographic explorer and lion conservationist believes that poaching has changed and technology plays an important part in finding and killing valuable endangered animals. Hackers are indeed a threat to endangered animals and targeting GPS collars points out that cyberpoaching is a reality that cannot be denied. The data that the collars transmit is extremely valuable, because poachers can locate the animals faster and if they hack into the reserves’ monitoring program, killing endangered species would be easier.
Although conservationists have been trying to save the animals from becoming soup or medication, the problem is the price of one collar; because they cost $5,000 per animal, collars are usually saved for the rarest species. Because these animals are also the most valuable on the black market, cyberpoaching is targeting these endangered creatures.
Currently, there are two solutions that can be used against the tech-savvy poachers, namely a military system and drones. The RF Mesh radio network makes it difficult for poachers to gain access to and an organization in Namibia already tried it with the help of Google Global Impact Award.
The other means of fighting cyberpoaching is by using drones and Kenya’s Ol Pejeta reserve already bought an “Aerial Ranger” from American company Airware. Although the machine cost $70,000, half of the sum was obtained with the help of a campaign and it promises to cover about 50 square miles in a 90-minute flight three times per day. Even if the drone is unarmed, it will help rangers detect poachers easier.
Hackers are now a real threat to endangered animals and cyberpoaching has become a popular method used by those who hunt down creatures facing extinction, especially since technology is seen as an investment in this branch and the profit makes the wait worthwhile.