Poachers are using scientific research to locate rare and endangered species

With more and more information available online, in public reports and wildlife atlases, these two researchers from the Australian National University are encouraging other scientists to consider self-censorship to conserve rare and endangered species.
By AG Staff May 26, 2017 Reading Time: 2 Minutes

A recent study encourages scientists to withhold the location of species in their published research as poachers are using these details to locate certain species for illegal wildlife trading.

Benjamin Scheele and David Lindenmayer from the Australian National University argue that this is a result of unrestricted access to scientific journals online. 

The way in which scientific research is being harnessed by poachers has the potential to devastate the populations of certain species, accelerate habitat destruction and create other issues for conservation, including those posed by individuals eager to photograph or handle the wildlife.

“Overzealous wildlife enthusiasts are increasingly scanning scientific papers, government and NGO reports, and wildlife atlases to track down unusual species to photograph or handle.”

The two scientists argue that the short time frame between research being published on rare and endangered species, and the illegal trade of these species is beyond a coincidence, adding,”Poaching has been documented in species within months of their taxonomic description in journals.”

Scheele and Lindenmayer told The Conversation they were concerned after their experiences publishing research they conducted on the pink-tailed worm-lizard. They found that after their study had been made available online, the landowners they’d worked with began finding trespasses on their properties.

“Information is increasingly available online in public reports and wildlife atlases, and research published behind paywalls can often be found in the public domain.”

As a result, the researchers are encouraging scientists to weigh in on the potential dangers of publishing the location of certain species, especially if the species can be considered “charismatic and attractive,” like the Chinese cave gecko.

This may have the potential to inhibit scientific research on rare and endangered species; however is a necessary compromise given the threat of poaching.

“Restricting information on rare and endangered species has trade-offs, and might inhibit some conservation efforts. Yet, much useful information can still be openly published without including specific details that could help the nefarious (or misguided) to find a vulnerable species,” said the pair of scientists. 

The study notes that such precautions are already being taken by open-access journals such as PLOS ONE, where data concerning endangered species is exempt, however the scientists argue that restrictions need to be more widely implemented. 

“More researchers, journal editors, and data custodians need to follow their lead.”

This research was published in the journal Science.

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