Africa: USAID Embraces Technology, Comes Up With Tech Challenge to Help Curb Wildlife Crime


By Lilian Mutegi, CIO East Africa

Date Published

USAID is sourcing innovative science and technology-based solutions to detect transit routes, strengthen forensic evidence, reduce consumer demand, and tackle corruption through the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge.

The Challenge expects to unveil the Grand Prize Winners in early 2016.

The Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge will reward innovative science and technology solutions that tackle specific wildlife trafficking issues. The Challenge comprises three stages of application: Concept Note, Prize Application, and Grand Prize Application.

All applicants were required to submit a short Concept Note before June 30, from which a group of finalists will be invited to advance in the competition and submit a Prize Application.

The Challenge will select numerous winners from the Prize Application pool to receive a Prize of $10,000 in addition to promotional and networking opportunities and technical assistance to scale or accelerate their solutions.

Prize winners will also have an opportunity to further compete for one of up to four Grand Prizes worth up to $500,000. The Challenge will use Grand Prizes to target and invest in the most promising solutions. The total number of Prize and Grand Prize winners will depend on the quality of applications.

In May, USAID, the Association of Southeast Asian National Wildlife Enforcement Network, and Freeland launched WildScan, a new mobile application that identifies endangered species in Vietnam.

WildScan was first launched in Thailand last year. The mobile application contains a unique identification function, high resolution photos and critical information for over 300 endangered species and illegal wildlife products commonly trafficked into and throughout Southeast Asia, as well as essential animal care instructions and a simple reporting system. It is designed to enable frontline wildlife law enforcement agencies to efficiently and accurately identify, report, and handle animals and animal products caught in the illegal wildlife trade, without the need for large reference books.

The Vietnamese upgrade of WildScan and its launch in Vietnam was supported by the Biodiversity Conservation Agency (BCA) under the Vietnam Environment Administration (VEA) and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE); working in collaboration with Freeland, a Bangkok-based counter trafficking organization; under the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funded Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST) program.

USAID takes a comprehensive approach to conservation, including combating wildlife trafficking, by helping communities manage wildlife by providing training, equipment and new technologies and supporting the development of new policies at the national level.

According to USAID, poaching and the illegal wildlife trade have far-reaching ecological, national security, and economic consequences that are undermining decades of conservation and development gains. The black market for illegal wildlife products is worth an estimated $19 billion a year in value.

Wildlife trafficking is pushing many animals, including species of elephants, tigers, rhinos, pangolins, turtles, sharks, and parrots, towards extinction. The illegal ivory trade increased by nearly 300 percent from 1998 to 2011. Even more dramatically, the number of rhinos poached annually increased more than 9000 percent from 13 in 2007 to a staggering 1,215 in 2014.