The tracking tags utilized by conservationists are now being used by poachers to kill the endangered animals they're meant to save, according to a new report published in Conservation Biology. Scientists use tags equipped with GPS or radio transmitters to study animals' behavior, migration, and more. The technology has been a major boon to conservation efforts. But, as biologist Steven Cooke tells the BBC, "there are many ways in which this process can be corrupted." And with the illegal animal trade being worth an estimated $18.4 billion per year, poachers and hunters have a major incentive to do just that, the Times reports.
Someone tried to hack GPS collar data for Bengal tigers in India, according to the report. And there are stories of hunters targeting tagged wolves in Yellowstone National Park. Meanwhile, recreational fishers in Minnesota asked the government to make fish tracking data publicly available since it was publicly funded. And tracking data was used to kill tagged sharks that were being studied and acting as early warnings for beach-goers in Australia. But the tags, which can give animal locations in near real-time, are also being abused by animal-lovers, who use the data to get closer to animals for photographs, interrupting their natural behavior or worse. Researchers say the lack of security for tag data needs to be addressed both by the manufacturers of the tags and the scientists using them.