Canada conservationist warns of 'cyber poaching'

February 25, 2017 by Michel Comte
Conservationist Steve Cooke says a safari company has been tagging animals in order to find them to show guests

Photographers, poachers and eco-tour operators are in the crosshairs of a Canadian conservationist who warns that tracking tags are being hacked and misused to harass and hunt endangered animals.

Steven Cooke, a biology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, says that the very tools used by scientists to study and protect animals and fish are being hijacked to do just the opposite.

Cooke, the Canada research chair of environmental science and biology, is the lead author of a paper published this week in the journal Conservation Biology.

The research paper cites the example of anglers in the US state of Minnesota who petitioned for access to data on northern pike movements, arguing that it should be publicly available because the research was publicly funded.

Australian authorities have used tags to locate and cull sharks while in India, attempts were made to hack the global positioning system (GPS) collars on endangered Bengal tigers in a case of "cyber poaching."

Cooke said that it is a new phenomenon and there is no data available to quantify this "troubling and unanticipated" problem.

But he provides a broad range of anecdotal evidence in his scholarly article.

Scientists are scheduled to meet in June in Australia to discuss the problem as well as potential fixes.

In the meantime, Cooke is calling for encryption and strict rules to secure data and limit the use of telemetry tools for non-research activities.

In India, attempts have been made to hack the GPS collars on endangered Bengal tigers in a case of "cyber poaching"

In an interview with AFP, Cooke noted that natural history, ecology, conservation and resource management have all benefited from the use of electronic tagging technology.

But if left unchecked, abuses could not only cause harm to animals, it could significantly hamper research.

"Just think about all the weird ways that people might try to exploit this technology," Cooke said.

The idea for this research came during a family vacation last summer to Banff National Park in Canada. It was then that he learned that the park authority had imposed a public ban on VHF radio receivers after photographers used telemetry to track tagged animals.

Canadian officials were concerned that the animals may be spooked, stressed or habituated to human interaction, which can alter their behavior and thus influence research findings, or lead to human-wildlife conflicts.

Follow the ping

The tags, Cooke explained, send out pings that can be tracked with a cheap handheld radio receiver.

"So you can stalk these animals in their natural environment, instead of waiting for them to wander over to you," he said.

Following one tagged animal could also lead poachers to others in its group.

US ranchers have been accused of trying to interfere with the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park

Convincing scientists to restrict access to their data may prove problematic, Cooke acknowledged.

"It runs counter to the open data movement," he said, describing the widespread use of social media and other outreach to share findings.

In some cases, researchers who receive government grants may be obligated to disseminate the information.

Citing cases of US ranchers accused of trying to interfere with the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park, and divers in the Bahamas who removed satellite tags from sharks, Cooke also warned about so-called "telemetry terrorism."

There is potential for this if people oppose tagging. For example, some Canadian Inuit fear acoustic transmitters will scare away culturally important marine wildlife, and some park visitors have complained that tags distract from the "wilderness experience."

Where commercial interests conflict with conservation goals or where they overlap, there is also a risk.

After the publication of his article Monday, Cooke said he received a call about a safari company that has been tagging animals in order to find them to show guests, rather than waiting patiently near watering holes hoping for wildlife to show up.

Many eco-tour operators offer discounts if no wildlife is seen during a trip.

"There's a pretty strong financial motivation for them to consistently find animals," Cooke commented.

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12 comments

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gkam
1.7 / 5 (6) Feb 25, 2017
More cowards with guns. I want to know how many would "hunt" if the animal had an even chance to get the hunter.

None. They are thrill-killers, killing for kicks.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Feb 26, 2017
More cowards with guns. I want to know how many would "hunt" if the animal had an even chance to get the hunter.

None. They are thrill-killers, killing for kicks.


Says the man eating a burger.
gkam
1 / 5 (4) Feb 26, 2017
I eat little meat these days,., and never Tiger or Cheetah.

The weird Trump kids had to go out and kill an endangered Cheetah recently, to relieve the pressures of being so rich.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (3) Feb 26, 2017
The Law of Unintended Consequences raises its ugly head.
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Feb 26, 2017
No, those Trump kids killed those rare animals intentionally.
Uncle Ira
4.3 / 5 (6) Feb 26, 2017
No, those Trump kids killed those rare animals intentionally.


@ glam-Skippy. (See that @ glam-Skippy there?) Why you think he was talking to or about you? Or your comment? You think maybe he was talking about the misuse of the conservationist's technology? Cher you really are as dumb as a cypress stump.
gkam
1 / 5 (4) Feb 26, 2017
We were not talking about you. Do you feel left out?

Okay, here: Hi. Why do you hide from us your real full name? Scared of us?
Uncle Ira
4.2 / 5 (5) Feb 26, 2017
We were not talking about you. Do you feel left out?
We? What you think he was having a conversation with you? Non, I do not feel left out. Here I am, so I am never left out.

Hi. Why do you hide from us your real full name?
How you are back to you. My name is Ira.

Scared of us?
Why I should be? Are you seven feet tall and weigh 300 pounds? What you got I should be afraid of?

If you ever come to visit me, you probably would not even make it to my house. Not all the coonasses down here are nice like me. And a couyon like you would probably end up getting slapped around asking for directions.

Your charm would get you into trouble my neighborhood so if you come to visit you should call first so I can escort you through the places you are too stupid to avoid.
gkam
1 / 5 (4) Feb 26, 2017
Threats from an anonymous sniper? Oh, NO!

Thanks but I've been there, and did not like the smell of rotting vegetation, the poorly-educated, and the big-gut Sheriffs driving cars with rebel license plates.
Uncle Ira
4.2 / 5 (5) Feb 26, 2017
Threats from an anonymous sniper? Oh, NO!
How is me wondering why I should be afraid of you a threat? I was just commenting on your charm and the how not everybody is nice like me.

Thanks but I've been there,
Well obviously you have not or you would not say something as stupid as,,,,

and did not like the smell of rotting vegetation,
You like the smell of those 26 smog alerts you did not have better? We never had any smog alerts ever.

And stupid thing that shows you never been where I am from,,,,,,,

the poorly-educated, and the big-gut Sheriffs driving cars with rebel license plates.
Cher I know the High Sheriff in my parish personal. Unlike you he has a real college law degree, from Loyola U. And national awards too. He does not have the rebel license plate, he carries so much of the black and creole vote that the last couple times he ran unopposed.

As the glam-Skippy would say: Look him up. Craig-Webre-Skippy
gkam
1 / 5 (4) Feb 26, 2017
Glad you cleaned up the Sheriff. When I was there, you still had signs which said "Seats for Whites Only".

Well, it's Mardi now, so you can get the stench of vomit from the drunks.

But this thread is about killing endangered animals by folk who get their kicks killing other living things. It makes them feel powerful.
Uncle Ira
5 / 5 (3) Feb 26, 2017
Well, it's Mardi now,
Non Cher, c'est dimanche ici.

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