‘Zoohackathon’ innovators seek to stop wildlife trafficking

Innovative technologies are helping policymakers, law enforcement officials and scientific researchers combat wildlife trafficking around the world.

The winner of the State Department’s 2020 Zoohackathon, BioUp, uses blockchain technology, which creates a secure record of past transactions, to track and catalog legally bred animals. The app may eventually help authorities distinguish legal from illegal sales, since traffickers often claim illegally obtained animals are from legitimate sources.

Sam Adam Hoffmann, a member of the winning team from Paraná in Brazil that created BioUp, said, “Having quick access to [the history and origin information of an animal] in a unified manner is essential for field agents who fight trafficking and biopiracy.”

The State Department’s fifth annual Zoohackathon, held virtually November 6–8, convened university students, programmers and wildlife experts to devise innovative technological solutions to the worldwide problem of wildlife trafficking.

Wildlife trafficking is one of the largest forms of transnational organized crime. It threatens security, undermines economic prosperity, spreads disease and pushes species to the brink of extinction.

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo in April called on the People’s Republic of China — the world’s largest consumer of trafficked wildlife — and other countries to close wet markets, where live species are sold for human consumption. These markets are hot spots for wildlife trafficking

The U.S. government spends more than $100 million annually in a global approach to combating wildlife trafficking. The United States works with other governments, nonprofits and the private sector to strengthen enforcement, build international cooperation and reduce demand for illegal wildlife.

Zoohackathon contributes to the United States’ global efforts by raising public awareness of the tragic consequences of wildlife trafficking and supporting the generation of innovative solutions to combat this crime.

Nearly 700 participants from 53 countries participated in the 2020 Zoohackathon. More than 60 teams faced off in regional competitions in Brazil, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Regional winners moved on to compete against each other for the global prize.

While BioUp won first prize, the team from the Philippines’ online tool for monitoring endangered species came in second place, while the team from Vietnam’s web app to help officials quickly access the country’s wildlife and conservation laws took third.

Previous years’ winners include a software program for gathering information on threatened birds from wildlife enthusiasts and a system to educate tourists on the risks of unknowingly purchasing illegal wildlife products when shopping for souvenirs.