Illegal poaching, how can blockchain help?


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by Lumai Mubanga

Thousands of Rhinos die Illegally

With so many use case coming up for a lot more scenarios, this article endeavours to speculate how blockchain can be used in the near future to help fight poaching and natural resource depletion especially in African countries that seem to be at the receiving end of these illegal activities.

The Poaching Challenge Matrix

Wikipedia defines poaching as “the illegal hunting or capturing of wild animals, usually associated with land use rights”. The most endangered animals in this trade are elephants and Rhinos. However, the endangered species are many.

People engage in poaching due to religious, economic, and other reasons. The reasons for elephant and rhino poaching however are huge and often involve cross-border sophisticated trading. It is from this perspective that we endeavour to speculate how blockchain technology may be of use.

Social and Economic impact

Many African nations have suffered an economic loss due to the Rhino horn illegal trade. According to national geography, black rhinos number only up to 5000 or less, with thousands killed in illegal poaching across the region. According to one report, one kilogram of rhino horn fetches as much as between $100,000.00 to $300,000.00 in Vietnam, making it perhaps more than its weight in GOLD. If three Rhinos are killed on average per day in southern Africa, typically about 900 rhinos die per year. With a rhino horn averaging between 1.5 and 3 kg, this roughly translates to over $540,000,000.00 lost in illegal trade. Imagine what a poor African country can do with such huge amounts. Unlike Gold, Copper, Diamonds, and other precious minerals which are under private investors who usually externalize their profits, many African countries can benefit economically since these resources rarely attract foreign investment.

Why blockchain may turn this around.

With its distributed ledger systems, accessible to anyone across the world, blockchain comes in handy to tackle these challenges. Additionally, blockchain has proven provenance-tracking capabilities that will come into play to prevent or deter would-be illegal poachers from taking that first step in the illegal trade. Of course, we want to hasten to state that blockchain is not a 100% solution on its own. However, if current anti-poaching strategies like the use of anti-poaching security teams, use of helicopters and drones are integrated with the blockchain systems, much can be achieved. Just what does blockchain bring to the table that may assist current efforts?

The DNA Criminal Database Model

Using a CIA Model of a criminal database, a team of scientists has already created a DNA database of rhinoceros “that will be used to help with the criminal prosecution of poachers”, according to daily science website. That, in my opinion, makes a perfect start for blockchain integration. For instance, there are already comprehensive efforts to create large databases of individual rhinos. If these databases can be used to match confiscated tissues – DNA to real crime locations, it should be possible too to link specific horns to specific animals.

Such a breakthrough will help save thousands of animals in Africa and help boost their revenue.

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