Technology continues to be a vital tool in the fight against illegal wildlife trafficking and poaching. In Africa, drones are used to watch over herds of elephants and rhinos. Recent improvements in artificial intelligence and camera technology have aided rangers in their efforts to capture poachers before they reach their target. For a team of conservationists in Central America’s Pacific slope, GPS technology offers a unique opportunity to protect local endangered turtle populations.
The non-profit group Paso Pacifico has begun utilizing GPS-tracked eggs in their mission to protect the turtles across Central America. Their newest product, the InvestEGGator, is a GPS tracking device that both looks and feels like a real turtle egg. The realism is for more than aesthetics. Paso Pacifico hopes that poachers will not notice the fake as they dig up the sea turtle eggs to sell in the market and will then lead the team to the source of the illegal practice.
For the species of sea turtles facing potential extinction due to poaching, habitat destruction, and climate change, successfully disrupting the market for turtle eggs and other turtle products is essential for their long-term survival. On Central American beaches, poachers destroy an estimated 90% of sea turtle nests in search of their eggs, causing further harm to already threatened species. El Salvador’s, Nicaragua’s, and Ecuador’s Hawksbill turtles and Mexico’s, Costa Rica’s, and Nicaragua’s Leatherback turtles are among the planet’s 11 most threatened sea turtle populations.
Though international and national laws protect sea turtles from the illegal wildlife trade, the potential financial payoff has continued to fuel the practice and sea turtles are heavily poached for their eggs as well as their meat and shells. In specific communities around the globe, sea turtle eggs are considered to be an aphrodisiac, bar snack, or expensive delicacy, and the shells are carved into fine jewelry, decorations, and souvenirs.
Paso Pacifico worries that, without intervention, these trends could lead to the eventual extinction of the world’s sea turtle species. Armed with the GPS eggs, the organization hopes to bring an end to the practice in Central America.
Tracking and Disrupting Poaching
The eggs operate in a similar way to a homing beacon. The InvestEGGator is placed into a sea turtles nest, hidden amongst the real eggs as it waits for a poacher. If none arrive, the other eggs hatch, and the Paso Pacifico crew retrieves the egg. However, if a poacher takes the device along with the real eggs, the team can track the device and the poacher’s smuggling route. They then use this information to coordinate with local authorities and interrupt the domestic and international egg trafficking system.
“If you’re deploying eggs on several beaches in a country, and let’s say they all end up going to the same neighborhood or the same block, then that suggests maybe a very centralized network with a couple of really key players,” said conservation biologist and member of Paso Pacifico Kim Williams-Guillén.
Potential Uses for International Wildlife Protection
The success of this pilot program may have wider implications for other endangered animals around the globe. While the technology to stop and intercept poachers has become a mainstay at most reservations and conservation projects, interrupting the poacher’s trade lines and access points to the market has proven to be more difficult. By planting GPS devices amongst the materials and products poachers are most likely to traffic, local organizations and law enforcement officials can better locate the leaders and driving forces of the trade.
Though bird eggs are the most apparent use of this technology, any transported product has the potential to benefit from the InvestEGGator’s concept, and the team hopes to make the device available for others to utilize in the near future. Technology has already altered the way Africa's rangers protect the rhinos and elephants under their care, and GPS technology offers the chance to stop the practice at its source.
Advancing the Fight Against Poaching
By providing the teams on the ground with the best technology available, they can better and more effectively protect the world’s most endangered species and ensure their survival for decades to come. At Stop Poaching Now, we fund and support teams in Zambia to ensure they have the resources they need. By working together and using new technology to its full potential, we can fight back against poaching and end the practice around the globe. Join us today to stop poaching and the global wildlife trafficking epidemic.