If it was not already clear that wildlife poaching is a serious problem as evident by: data on the black market, the increasing number of poached rhinos, monitoring and analysis of elephant killings, the online uproar around the killing of Cecil the lion, and more – much more – then the numerous interventions in operation or that are scheduled to enter the scene make it clear. Poaching. Is. A. Major. Concern.
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I have been collecting and mapping the different activities that are taking place around stopping wildlife poaching for the last several weeks. I am probably not nearly close to finding them all as it seems like every week I learn about at least one new plan aimed at combating poaching. There are probably three main nodes one can think of in terms of reducing poaching: supply, demand, and the logistical networks that connect the two. I have been exposed to a very rich and interesting world of suggested solutions and I am taking this as an opportunity to summarize and jot down what I currently know about some of the amazing work done in this field.
The following is in no particular order. Consider it a mix of how my notes are organized and my current erratic thoughts. I am also not getting into the pros and cons of each one, there are many on each side per each intervention. You can learn more about them in the links provided by they do not provide the full spectrum of support and criticism available – search each one online and you are likely to find a trove of both good and bad coverage.
- Injecting toxic pink dye into the horns of rhinos. The idea is to reduce demand for rhino horns by creating the concern that it might cause severe stomach aches for a few days. If this concern spreads across consumers then poachers will have a lower incentive to target rhinos (read more).
- Big data and drones for the rescue. A big problem in protecting wildlife is the small number of rangers and the vast area they need to cover. This group uses satellite data, a Bayesian model, and drones to figure out where to optimally place the rangers (read more).
- 3D printing fake rhino horns. This company is working on creating synthetic replicas of rhino horns to replace poached rhino horns (read more).
- U.S. military veterans go and train park rangers. This group aims to support post-9/11 veterans and provide guidance and training to park rangers in their fight against illegal poachers (read more).
- Re-purposing old cellphones to detect illegal poaching (and deforestation). This group takes an old cellphone, connects it to solar panels, and produces a sensor that flags suspected illegal poaching and deforestation (read more).
- Installing cameras in the horns of rhinos. Drilling into the horns of rhinos once again but this time to install cameras that turn on when sensors detect that the animal is in distress (or dead, which is in a way, a very high level of distress) in order to deter poachers by increasing the chances of obtaining evidence against them (read more).
- Using forensics to stop the traders. The Fish & Wildlife Service is using techniques that might seem as if they are taken from an episode of CSI to detect, arrest, and prosecute (with the help of the Department of Justice) traders of rhino horns (read more).
Other related initiatives involve stronger regulation and enforcement, phasing out of ivory trading markets, destroying illegal ivory, a wildlife trade documentary with a Fast & Furious flavor, and launching a tech challenge to encourage the development of even more ideas and methods to defeat poachers. As I wrote at the beginning of this post, this is a very busy scene which just keeps getting busier. Hopefully it will be able to make a significant dent in the poaching rates as the numbers of several species bring them close to extinction.
What is the general equilibrium of all of these interventions? That is a great question. Give me 10 to 15 years and I might have a partial, hopefully empirical, somewhat convincing, undoubtedly flawed – answer.