"Cyberpoaching" Feared as Threat to Tigers

Hacked e-mail could endanger Bengal tiger

There are fewer than 2,000 Bengal tigers left in the wild; 22 of them are monitored by Panna Tiger Reserve in central India.     Photo: RAYphotographer/Shutterstock

At Panna Tiger Reserve in central India, Kirshnamurthy Ramesh, the head of a program that monitors and protects endangered tigers, received a fright in July: An e-mail informed him that someone 620 miles away from the reserve had tried to access his professional e-mail account. The only contents of note? The geographic location of an endangered Bengal tiger.

Ramesh was immediately suspicious that the attempted hack, thwarted by his server, could have been an instance of cyberpoaching.

Wildlife-governance specialist Andrew Zakharenka, of the Washington D.C.-based Global Tiger Initiative, says that "with increasing income and connectivity to the Internet, especially in developing countries, there is a threat of increased demand for wildlife products." This includes online trafficking, which the World Wide Fund for Nature estimates is worth $7.8 to $10 billion a year.

Ramesh told National Geographic that cyberpoachers would not be able to determine the location of the tiger in the event of a successful hack: "[The data] would look like unusual numbers or symbols."

Nevertheless, the reserve plans to deploy surveillance drones and set up wireless sensors to detect human intrusions into the forest.

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