Coders win for wildlife

Wildlife was the real winner at the UK’s first-ever Zoohackathon event at ZSL London Zoo, where a crack team of coders, creative-minds and conservationists collaborated to develop cutting-edge technological solutions to tackle illegal wildlife trade

Zoohackathon - Team Lookout working
Coders hard at work at the Zoohackathon at ZSL London Zoo

Following 48 hours of innovative thinking and creative coding, team ‘Lookout’ beat 14 other groups to claim the winning title with their solution designed to educate travellers about the perils of buying illegal wildlife products.

Lookout’s winning idea was centred around the issue of inadvertent trafficking of endangered illegal wildlife products by international tourists. As well as designing a powerful, predictive online platform that coordinates information on illegally-trafficked items so they are searchable by tourists’ destinations,  the team also devised a communications plan to raise awareness of the issue, including automatically embedding relevant information at points throughout a travel booking process.

A U.S. Department of State initiative, the Zoohackathon saw zoos across the world - including Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, San Diego Zoo and Singapore Zoo - invite the brightest technological minds, conservation experts and designers to unite and take on one of the greatest threats currently facing the world’s wildlife.  

The winners of the London event, run by ZSL in partnership with the US Embassy, won a £2,000 prize fund and will have the assistance of ZSL’s own pioneering Conservation Technology Unit (CTU) in turning their idea into reality. 

Zoohackathon - Winning Team - Lookout
The winning team - 'Lookout'

Speaking at the awards presentation, team Lookout’s Caroline Fletcher said: “We targeted our solution at the touchpoints that travellers have to encounter when booking a holiday – such as flight booking and printing boarding passes – embedding the relevant information here alongside the online platform we designed. This way, travellers come across the information naturally, and are exposed even if they don’t have a smart phone.”

“We designed the whole thing in 48 hours so we haven’t had much sleep but it feels really fantastic to have won!”

Sophie Maxwell, head of ZSL’s CTU, said: “We’ve seen phenomenal ideas generated at the Zoohackathon – from an illegal wildlife trade economy simulation game to new fundraising devices- the level of creative thinking was outstanding. 

“‘Lookout’s bold idea went beyond the brief, highlighting the concept that we should merge technology with the travel industry to really make an impact on the illegal wildlife trade in this area. 

“We’re excited to see how the other creative ideas generated at ZSL London Zoo’s event fare in the global competition, and how these ideas will help shape the future of the fight against the illegal wildlife trade.”

All of the London teams’ final ideas will be submitted into the global competition against rivals from across the USA and Australia, with ultimate winners claiming the overall $10,000 prize fund. 

Zoohackathon logo

The Zoohackathon teams came up with some amazing ideas:

WINNER -  Lookout - a solution to educate travellers about the products of the illegal wildlife trade that they may find at their destination, with a view to preventing tourists from inadvertently driving the illicit trade.  As well as designing a powerful, predictive online platform that coordinates information on illegally-trafficked items so they are searchable by tourists’ destinations,  the team also devised a communications plan to raise awareness of the issue, including automatically embedding relevant information at points throughout a travel booking process. Follow them on Facebook.

Wild Coin - a funding platform proposing a new method of peer-to-peer conservation funding, match making people to the conservation cause that interests them and allowing direct transfer of funds from donor to conservationist through block-chain technology. It also presents a platform for interested donors to advertise available funds for projects not yet underway. 

Improbable’s Wildlife Trade Economy Game - a game that simulates the worldwide illegal wildlife trade economy, inviting gamers to make investments in different parts of the illegal wildlife chain and assess the impact of these on simulated wildlife populations. Similar to the cult game ‘Pandemic’, the game encourages players to make choices to explore the complex nature of the illegal wildlife trade chain. With development, the simulation could even be used by conservation organisations to explore the possible impacts of their conservation actions over time. 

Reading palms - a platform that uses satellite imaging and machine learning to detect potential locations of land use conflict within oil palm landscapes.

Zoolander - a browser plugin to educate travellers about the illegal wildlife trade. The extension automatically grabs your destination from flight booking websites and displays a list of species under threat from the illegal trade in that country. 

George Pachitariv - a phone robot to facilitate the reporting of wildlife crime, allowing data to be input into the SMART technology database in low technology areas. This phone robot only requires numbered options to be chosen, addressing the issue of illiteracy sometimes being a barrier in wildlife crime reporting as individuals can’t text in what they have seen.

Rafiki - an app that adds machine learning into the SMART technology process to enable greater predictive power of poaching occurrences and communication throughout the community.

Trill - another solution building on SMART technology, connecting the community to the data gathering system via SMS, to report poaching.

Green Team - created Jane, a Facebook bot providing automated, country specific information on illegal wildlife trade products to travellers in response to their questions, covering every aspect from market products to food in restaurants. 

Palm Oil Optimisation Project - a platform to guide smallholder farmers through the process of achieving sustainable palm oil certification, cutting the complicated assessment criteria into bite-size objectives.

Snapcat - an app to discover and donate to wildlife by scanning objects in the world around you.

Sosa - an app integrated with SMART technology databases to help communities report wildlife crime anonymously.

Elephone - an app to help prevent travellers inadvertently buying wildlife crime products that recognizes illegal products through image recognition. 

E-conscience - A browser plugin that recognizes page mentions of animals threatened by the illegal wildlife trade and provides additional information on them and a way to donate.

Start spreading the Sumatran tiger news - a personalised video using green screen technology in which you star to address the issue of wildlife poaching.

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