Hackers Gather at Escondido Zoo Safari Park to Solve Animal Trafficking

Rhinos are of particular interest this year, as the wild animals are often poached for their horns

Some of the brightest minds in technology and research are gathering at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido, California, to try to solve the world-wide problem of wildlife trafficking. 

Programmers, designers and more are participating in the Zoohackathon, a three-day event through the zoo, in partnership with the State Department.

An opening reception kicked off the weekend on Friday. During the hackathon on Saturday and Sunday, the hackers work to "create applications, systems, and tools to help reduce demand for trafficked wildlife products," according to the Zoohackathon site.

The hackers work around the clock for the 48 hours to try to implement the thoughts and ideas laid out by designers and researchers.

"You have animal and plant parts being traded illegally throughout the world. They have to be shipped somehow," said Stacey Johnson, corporate director of conservation and research for the San Diego Zoo. "Most of the shipping companies are using tracking systems of their own. So figuring out how we can examine them." 

Johnson said the hackers will also look into illegally posted animal and plant products online. 

Rhinos are of particular interest at the event, Johnson said. The wild animals are often poached for their horns. In Africa, the black rhino is critically threatened and the northern white rhino went extinct in the wild, with the only remaining ones living at a conservancy in Kenya.

The State Department said it believes technology can help end the cycle of buying and selling illegal wildlife products

When the event is over, the hacking teams pitch their ideas to judges and winners receive prizes. Those winners then have the opportunity to compete for prizes around the world.

Hacking events are also taking place over the weekend in Madrid, Mumbai and Uganda. New Delhi will host an event next weekend.

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