Hong Kong, along with Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and China, is an internationally recognized hub for wildlife trafficking and as such plays an important role in global networks that supply poached wildlife across Asia. Estimated at over £20 billion annually (UNEP 2016), wildlife trafficking is one of the worlds most nefarious challenges, ranking the fourth largest illegal trade behind drugs, people smuggling and counterfeiting. This illegal trade is driven by demand for everything from exotic pets, delicacies, jewelry, decorations, and traditional chinese medicines. The question is can more be done to bring new tools and approaches to help fight wildlife crime? How can we change attitudes, raise awareness, and enable consumers to make informed choices as well as stopping those responsible?
Zoohackathon is a project supported in part by the U.S. Government’s Task Force on Combating Wildlife Trafficking to address two of the three pillars of the National Strategy: demand reduction and increasing international cooperation. Now in its 6th year the Zoohackathon has grown to encompass efforts by non-governmental organizations and conservation and technology organisations around the world including WWF, Microsoft, TRAFFIC, ADMCF and Haibu. The two day event, which took place on the 1st and 9th November 2019, welcomed university students and anyone within 3 years of their graduation date to develop usable solutions to problems solicited from wildlife experts.
The Zoo Hackathon is a design sprint-like event in which computer programmers, software designers and developers collaborate intensively on software projects. With the goal to create usable mobile applications and services (software or hardware) to combat wildlife crime. This was my first experience being a part of a Zoohackathon and I was invited along as a judge/panelist, representing ADMCF, alongside Anthony Circharo, Environment, Science, Technology, Health Officer from the U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong & Macau, Caroline Dingle, Director of the Center for Conservation Forensics from The University of Hong Kong, David Olson, Director of Conservation from WWF and Wander Meijer, Director Asia Pacific from GlobeScan. Teams pitched their interdisciplinary approach to raise awareness in wildlife trafficking and marine life preservation through various app development and service design.
At the end of the event, 8 teams pitched their ideas to the expert panel of judges and we were faced with the difficult task of picking a winner.
- Healer (1st Prize) – An application for clinical uses improving sustainable TCM consumption
- One Ocean (2nd Prize) – AI integrated database for ocean enthusiasts to study sharks/rays
- EVMT (3rd Prize) – Wedding app initiative to eliminate shark fin consumption
Local winners from each city will compete for a grand prize, which will be announced in December.
The global winner wins a prize and will potentially receive support to further develop and deploy their solution. Other cities to host the Zoohackathon 2019 are Gaborone, Moscow, Geneva, Helsinki, Sao Paulo, Hong Kong, Quezon City and San Diego in the US.
For more information about the competition, visit http://zoohackathon.com
UNEP. 2016. Illegal Trade in Wildlife Fact Sheet. Nairobi, Kenya: UNEP
U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau