When it comes to social media, sharing can be a lot of fun. Who doesn’t like making friends, family and followers hungry with mouthwatering #foodporn pictures?
Capturing and sharing images or videos of your encounters with wildlife can also be a lot of fun, but it turns out that it can also disrupt the natural order of the circle of life. Poachers can secretly be liking and using your content. Your content (and its possible built-in geotagging feature) could help poachers track down, hunt and kill some of the world’s most endangered animals.
Geotagging adds geographical metadata to a piece of content in real-time. Geotags can be applied to your photos, videos, text messages, websites, RSS feeds and websites; they most commonly indicate latitude and longitude coordinates. Yet, they can also note the altitude, distance, accuracy and the name of a location.
Poaching and Profit Gets Digital
Geotagging makes cyberpoaching quick, easy and efficient.
If you want to understand the risks that geotagging poses to wildlife, then here is how one park put it:
Please be careful when sharing photos on social media. They can lead poachers to our rhino. Turn off geotag function and do not disclose where the photo was taken.
Emails aren’t even safe. In India, there was a potential scare when a user was trying to access a conservationist’s email account. While this possible hacker was unsuccessful, they could’ve been privy to sensitive radio tracking collar information about the animals’ real-time location and movements.
According to National Geographic, there is big money in the wildlife-trafficking industry. The industry hauls in profits of $7.8 to $10 billion per year.
The cybersphere also makes it easier to buy a dead wildlife animal or the parts of a wild animal; it’s more anonymous, the transactions are quicker, and it’s harder to track. Websites dedicated to the trafficking of majestic animals do exist. Apparently, the animal’s blood on an object is a strong selling point.
Cyberpoaching South Africa‘s Rhino
Poachers can go to great lengths for information because some endangered animals are worth it. One rhino horn can be worth $300,000. Why would anyone pay $300,000 for one rhino horn? Parts of Asia believe that the horn has medicinal and miraculous properties — curing everything from the average hangover to a rampant cancer.
In 2013, there were more rhinos killed in South Africa by poachers than ever in recorded history. Out of the South Africa’s 18,000 wild rhinos (which also account for 83 percent of the world’s rhino population), poachers illegally hunted and killed 1,004 rhinos.
Sometimes Turning it Off Isn‘t Enough
Most media platforms allow users to turn on and turn off the feature, so the solution seems simple. Turn off geotagging and problem solved, right? That’s not entirely true.
It’s also about the small details that you might overlook. A faint reflection, a structure, a sign, a logo, a unique tree, a site-specific color or species of flora could be just enough information that a poacher with a trained eye needs.
Not All Geotagging is Bad
As reported in Business Mirror, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources spent tons of money and resources on geotagging equipment for 300 forestry professionals. The goal of the Department’s National Greening Program (NGP) is “to plant 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares from 2011 to 2016.”
While people on the ground will always be useful, geotagging allows environmentalists to do more, especially in those extra remote locations or in areas of conflict. Geotagging facilitates things like: locating, monitoring and managing. Both forest professionals and concerned citizens can track the progress and growth of program thanks to geotagging.
Shut off the geotagging and think twice about what you are sharing. Capturing and sharing memories now is a beautiful thing, but there’s always later for that. I’d rather know that the majestic animal that I captured digitally doesn’t physically get captured by poachers thanks to me. That animal or that endangered species might not get a later.
Photo Credit: William Warby