Technology Gurus Get Together to Solve Conservation Challenges

Zoohackathon Weekend at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park Works to Inspire Future Efforts

A group of 40 technology experts came together at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park last weekend, working to develop tools that can be used to help conservationists protect species from wildlife trafficking and other conservation challenges. The event was part of a series of Zoohackathons, held Oct. 7-9 at zoos that are leaders in conservation technology—in San Diego, Seattle, Sydney, London and Washington, D.C.—through a collaborative effort of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the U.S. Department of State.

“What this event does is bring together technology and conservation,” said Acting Assistant Secretary Judith Garber, U.S. Department of State, speaking at the opening of the Zoohackathon. “What we are hoping to do is end the vicious cycle of buying and selling wildlife trafficking products—and we think technology is the way to do this.”

Each Zoohackathon began with an opening session, laying out problem statements solicited from leading conservation experts around the world, which were vetted by technology experts for feasibility. Then, participants worked for 48 hours to hack their way toward solutions. At the end of the hackathons, teams presented their ideas, and a panel of judges nominated a winner for each site. A global panel of technology and conservation experts will review and select the top submissions for further development and possible market deployment.

The Zoohackathon at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park took place at the Beckman Center for Conservation Research and included presentations from scientists working in the field to save rhinos, orangutans and other species. It concluded with the announcement of a winning project: “WildTrack,” a messaging system linked to the world’s leading field reporting tool that allows both rangers and the public to anonymously let wildlife authorities know about trafficking activities as they occur.

Zoohackathon is a project supported in part by the U.S. government’s Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking to address two of the three pillars of the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking: demanding reduction and increasing international cooperation. But Zoohackathon has quickly grown to encompass efforts by non-governmental organizations, other national actors, and conservation and technology actors around the world.

Zoohackathon builds on the Department of State’s successful Fishackathon model, now in its third year, and was organized by the Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs as a public-private partnership. The event called on coders, designers and science enthusiasts from around the world to come together over a weekend to create new applications and tools to address issues on the demand side of wildlife trafficking. For more information about Zoohackathon, including submissions from around the world, visit Follow Zoohackathon on social media at @StateDeptOES, #Zoohackathon and #EndTheLoop.