We continually see losses of endangered and valuable animals and plants, from tigers and teak trees to rhinos and rhododendrons. At the same time, ever more people have a cellphone or access to one. Now the phones can help the fauna and flora.
The Wildlife Conservation Society has surveyed some new mobile apps that provide information on hundreds of endangered species. The apps also link people attempting to enforce wildlife laws with relevant experts and other resources. [Heidi E. Kretser et al, Mobile decision-tree tool technology as a means to detect wildlife crimes and build enforcement networks, in Biological Conservation]
In China, an app called “Wildlife Guardian” features picture-based identification of 475 different animals, highlighting up to five body parts from each—for example, tiger claws or elephant tusks. The app is for use by officials at the Anti-Smuggling Bureau of China Customs or other agencies charged with stopping illegal imports. A similar web-based system has been developed for Vietnam.
In the U.S., the Department of Defense funded the development of an app for military police called “Wildlife Alert,” which can help them identify and report products made from endangered wildlife. Military personnel often unwittingly purchase such goods unaware of their potentially criminal origins.
The apps can be used without an internet connection, so information about, for example, the endangered Persian leopard can be accessed even in a remote protected area in Afghanistan.
Wildlife crime? Now there’s an app for that.