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Boris Johnson wants tech to fight illegal wildlife trade

The foreign secretary wants the country’s “finest technological brains” to help combat poaching and save endangered species

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has called on the UK’s tech sector to help fight illegal wildlife trade around the world.

He has announced plans to host a series of workshops on how to effectively use technological innovation to combat poaching, and the first of these meetings took place today (4 June).

It saw tech companies such as Google, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Cisco, as well as Digital Catapult and techUK, come together with the Royal Foundation and the Zoological Society of London, to hear about the challenges faced by the sector.

The aim of the meetings, which will run throughout the summer, is to come up with technological innovations to combat poaching, spot animals in danger, and make it easier to identify illegal wildlife products going through customs at the border.

Johnson said he has just come back from a trip to the Amazon, “one of earth’s natural wonders, where both animals and people are suffering at the hands of criminals who are committing horrible wildlife crimes”.

“What I saw has only sharpened my determination to combat the plight of the illegal wildlife trade,” he said.

“I want to make sure we’re using all the great talent we have available to us to fight this problem, so I’m calling on our finest technological brains to help us in the battle to save some of the world’s most endangered species.”

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Julian David, CEO of techUK, said that new technology, “whether it is blockchain to support supply chain transparency and assurance or drones, satellites and the internet of things-enabled solutions to monitor activity in national parks and areas of high scientific interest”, is “revolutionising conservation across the world”

Last month, Computer Weekly reported that network services provider Dimension Data, with support from partner Cisco, is working on a wildlife conservation project, protecting Zambia’s at-risk elephant population, following a successful pilot with rhinos in South Africa.

As part of the project, which takes place in an undisclosed national park in Zambia, Dimension Data and Cisco will help to set up a new control room to monitor operations across this park’s boundaries, deploying CCTV analytics to create, in effect, a virtual tripwire that will detect the movement of boats on a lake adjoining the park, where poachers have been known to pose as fishermen in order to get access.

Over time, park officials hope to use the data to build a pattern of movement on the lake, and alert Zambia’s recently established special forces marine unit (which is also getting a new powerboat) if there is night-time movement beyond the tripwire.

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