Mumbai holds its first Zoohackathon, a tech-challenge to find solutions to curb wildlife crime
The competition commenced with an introduction to the problem statements related to wildlife crime by U.S. Department of State’s Ms Victoria Peabody.These statements included-Demystifying Laws about Wildlife Trafficking; Communication Tools for Wildlife; Wildlife Trafficking on Social Media and Identifying and Tracking Animals in Captivity. Seven competing teams from across Mumbai chose a topic of their choice and worked for two days to develop tech-based solutions that were presented before the judges today.
“Project Fauna” won the Mumbai Zoohackathon with a project that used virtual reality animal models to help zoos and conservation associations better communicate the plight of endangered and trafficked species. Team Fauna also developed a new kind of social media “bot” which can inform online shoppers about the effects of purchasing endangered animal products. The runner up “Team Syndicate” developed a machine-learning platform to search e-commerce platforms and blogs where people often buy and sell trafficked animals. Their program then pulls contact and other relevant information about these buyers and sellers, so law enforcement agencies can more efficiently break up trafficking rings. Their program also generates wildlife trafficking alerts to send to law enforcement agencies via SMS in real time.
Illegal wildlife trade is devastating wildlife species the world over, as poachers, traffickers and highly organised criminal syndicates ruthlessly pursue profit at any cost to meet consumer demand. In light of this, Zoohackathon was conceptualised and organised to challenge the public to develop technology-based solutions that will help stop wildlife trafficking. It brought together young developers, designers, project managers, and subject matter experts to create applications, systems, and tools to help reduce demand for illegal wildlife products.
Ms Jennifer Larson, Deputy Principal Officer, U.S. Consulate General Mumbai said “Events such as these provide an unique platform where new ideas can be developed to create solutions and assist administrations and enforcement agencies to combat illegal wildlife trade and poaching”
Mr. N. Vasudevan, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Mangrove Cell, Maharashtra Forest Department said, “Illegal wildlife trade is hampering conservation efforts for species while crippling the ecosystem where these species are known to occur. Concerted efforts are needed and there is a need to use tools and technologies to combat the same, while also using such mechanism to reach out and educate the masses”
Mr Ravi Singh, CEO and Secretary General, WWF-India said, “Wildlife crime is a major threat to many species of endangered wildlife. Rapid changes in methods used by criminals to trade illegal wildlife products makes it necessary to develop innovative solutions to this problem. Zoohackathon is a step in that direction by encouraging young minds to think innovatively and suggest tools that can help in curbing poaching and illegal wildlife trade using technology”.
Dr Saket Badola, Head- TRAFFIC’s India Office while thanking all participants, judges, mentors and management of Mumbai Zoo said, “The hour has come where technology and conservation needs to get integrated to combat the growing menace of illegal trade. Also, such technologies can go a long way in educating and creating awareness among various stakeholders.”
The Judging panel for the event included Mr. N. Vasudevan IFS, APCCF Mangrove Cell, Maharashtra Forest Department, Ms. Jennifer Larson, Deputy Principal Officer, U.S. Consulate General, Mumbai, Mr. Abraham Koshy, Country Manager of The Open Group, Dr. Shubhalaxmi, Founder of Ladybird Environmental Consulting Firm, iNatureWatch Foundation and Dr M. Maranko, Regional Deputy Director Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Western Region, Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change.
The first Zoohackathon in 2016 took place in London, Sydney, Washington, D.C., San Diego, and Seattle. India’s first Zoohackathon was held at the WWF-India Secretariat in New Delhi on 7–8 October 2017, coinciding with the Wildlife Week celebrations and was organized by U.S. Embassy, MoEF&CC, TRAFFIC and WWF-India.
This year, for the first time in Mumbai, participants got an opportunity to work at the venue for two days (15 and 16 September) to hack their way toward solutions to challenge statements solicited from conservation experts around the world. They were also mentored by experts in wildlife conservation, software programming and communication during the hackathon.
For further information about Zoohackathon, please visit www.trafficindia.org ; www.zoohackathon.com/
For more information on the Zoohackathon, Mumbai, please contact Ms. Kathryn Ortenzi (U.S. Consulate General, Mumbai) at 022 26724434 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org; Farmeen Mistry (WWF – Maharashtra State Office) at 9820087878 or email her at email@example.com)