Biology

Poachers are scanning scientific papers to find rare (and endangered) species

Poachers are scanning scientif...
The researchers say that within days of publishing data on the pink-tailed worm lizard, poachers began appearing on private property in search of them
The researchers say that within days of publishing data on the pink-tailed worm lizard, poachers began appearing on private property in search of them
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The researchers say that within days of publishing data on the pink-tailed worm lizard, poachers began appearing on private property in search of them
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The researchers say that within days of publishing data on the pink-tailed worm lizard, poachers began appearing on private property in search of them

Scientists have taught us pretty much all that we know about the animal kingdom, but are there times when they are better off keeping their discoveries to themselves? A team of Australian researchers are now calling for some data on the location of endangered species to be withheld from scientific journals, in light of a mounting body of evidence that suggests poachers are using publicly available information to zero in on the animals.

"There are a lot of benefits to open-access online journals including an increased public awareness of science and citizen science participation, but for some species this benefit needs to be weighed against the risk of increased poaching," said Dr Benjamin Scheele from Australia National University and one of the authors of the new paper.

Scheele and lead researcher Professor David Lindenmayer point to the hunting down of the pink-tailed worm lizard, which is listed as "vulnerable," as a recent example. Within days of publishing their research that described its whereabouts, poachers began appearing on private property, apparently in search of the rare, legless Australian lizard.

"It didn't take long before we started getting phone calls from land owners saying they had people digging up the rocky areas where they live," says Professor Lindenmayer.

Writing in The Conversation, the researchers describe the Chinese cave gecko as another victim of easily accessible habitat data. Illegal trade of the creatures began very soon after the animals were first scientifically described in the early 2000's, and the researchers say that this is not an isolated case.

Rather than calling for any hard-and-fast rules around open-access publishing, the researchers say that scientists should be highly selective when it comes to publishing information on specific habitats and locations.

"People are just starting to withhold specific habitat and location information from publications, which is promising," said Scheele. "It shows that it is still possible to publish new scientific descriptions without including the location data. We argue that researchers are best placed to judge the risk to a species, so author self-censorship may currently be the best option to stop this crucial information getting used for the wrong reasons."

The paper was published in the journal Science.

Source: Australian National University

3 comments
Wolf0579
Maybe it's time to increase the penalties for poaching endangered species... to life imprisonment with hard labor where available.
BeinThayer
Wolf0579, Increased penalties will only lead to increased incentives to poach. Look at the drug trade. Want to deter poaching? Then make possessing the bounty of poaching undesirable. Make those people who procure endangered species as pets or food or clothing accessories or for whatever reason, the target of punitive action by anonymous actors. Brand their foreheads with "poacher". Fill their house with dung. Make them fear going out without armed guards because of the multiple times they have been hunted and held down while a livestock tag is secured through their ear. ....yeah, that is a little extreme. How about just publicly shaming them on billboards.
BeinThayer
Where is the scientific rigor in this 'research'? Look like a small collection anecdotal evidence, an appeal to authority, and a premature call to action. Scientists should maintain their solid footing with the sturdiness of the scientific method.