Why poachers persist in hunting bushmeat — even though it’s dangerous



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Flickr/jbdodane

Eli Knapp, Houghton College

The illegal hunting of bushmeat, or game meat, has long distressed wildlife conservationists. It has persisted in sub-Saharan Africa, attracting international attention and debate. Enforcement by authorities and community-based initiatives have been tried as anti-poaching approaches, but with mixed results. Overall, wildlife populations have continued to plummet.

Why has poaching refused to go away? The answer, as suggested by poachers themselves, is simple: because poaching pays.

We conducted a study with poachers in western Tanzania. Our findings shed new light on what motivates people to poach and shows that poachers benefit considerably while the costs are negligible. The study also knocks down the general perception about who poachers are – they’re not necessarily the poorest of the poor. Rather than hunting for basic subsistence, they take risks to widen their livelihood options and improve their situation.

Our research therefore suggests that current approaches to dealing with poaching are misplaced for a simple reason: poachers vary widely. Bottom-up, or community-based, interventions like providing meat at a reduced cost, are unlikely to work unless the benefits can offset what they gain through poaching. And for those who are poaching out of necessity, top-down measures, like longer prison sentences or greater fines, are unlikely to be effective because they don’t have alternative ways to make an income.

Cost benefit analysis

Our study focused on individuals who lived in villages that bordered two premier national parks in Tanzania: Serengeti National Park and Ruaha National Park.

We interviewed 200 poachers, asking them questions about their lives, livelihood alternatives and motivations for poaching. Respondents volunteered information freely and were neither paid nor given incentives for their participation.

We found that illegal hunters are making rational decisions. They earn far more through hunting than through all the other options combined for rural farmers. Over a 12-month period, poachers on average generated US$425. This is considerably more than the amount earned through typical means – such as trade, small business, livestock sales and agricultural sales – which amount to about US$258 each year.

Obviously, benefits are meaningless unless compared to the costs involved. Hunting large animals in the bush carries economic and physical risks. Hunters could get injured, risk imprisonment or lose the opportunity to farm or do other forms of legitimate business.

But, in places like rural Tanzania, the benefits outweigh these costs.

Where farming is the main income generator, there is lots of time available to hunt between planting and harvesting seasons. And with high formal unemployment, labour in a typical household is rarely a limiting factor. We compared poaching and non-poaching households and found that the opportunity costs forfeited by poaching households amounted to just US$116, far below the amount gained through bushmeat sales of US$425. Because other income generating opportunities are few and pay little, poachers have little to lose by poaching.

Other economic costs may come in the form of arrests, imprisonment and subsequent fines. Each time a poacher entered the bush, he faced a 0.07% chance of being arrested. Once arrested, poachers may be fined, imprisoned, beaten or let off. Two-thirds of poachers had never been arrested. Those who had spent just 0.04 days in prison when averaged over a career of 5.2 years. Of those arrested, just over half (56%) had been fined, with fines averaging US$39. For every trip taken, poachers paid just two cents when averaged over their career.

The story here is simple. The majority of poachers never get arrested. And those who do pay a penalty that is paltry compared to the income typically earned.

Physical costs, including injury and possibly even death, have been far more difficult to assess. Outside Serengeti National Park, dangerous wildlife was frequently encountered in the bush and one-third of the poachers questioned had been injured during their hunting careers. Recovery times averaged slightly more than a month. But when averaged over the number of days a poacher spends in the bush (1,901 days), the likelihood of being injured on any given day was remarkably low, just 0.02%.

Still, poaching isn’t easy. Eight in ten respondents claimed it was a difficult activity and that they did it primarily because they didn’t make enough money from legal activities.

Moderately poor

Poverty has long been assumed to be a primary driver of poaching activities, however it may not be that poachers are the poorest of the poor.

Our analysis of poachers living along the borders of Ruaha National Park, revealed that they are poor, but not absolutely poor. In the language of the economist Jeffrey Sachs, many poachers may be “moderately poor”. They are unlikely to go hungry in the short term and are able to focus more on expanding their livelihood options.

Regarding their economic self-perception, these poaching households were similar to non-poaching households. Over half (54%) of poaching households considered themselves economically “average” rather than “poor”.

So, if poachers don’t consider themselves to be poor and consider poaching difficult, why do they do it? The answer may lay in a concept that the Nobel Peace Prize winner Amartya Sen has called “capability deprivation”.

Many poachers lack choices by which to improve their lives. They lack access to income which reduces their chances for further education or entrepreneurial opportunity. Deprived of capabilities to make a better life, many poachers —- at least in Tanzania —- continue to poach to gain agency, rather than just to make ends meet.

One respondent, outside Ruaha National Park, stated that after poaching for six years, he gave it up. His livestock numbers had grown enough to ensure sufficient income the whole year through. This poacher’s story reveals that some threshold of affluence is attainable for longtime poachers to curb illegal activity.

The ConversationResults here present a new twist for those seeking to protect dwindling wildlife populations. It means that strategies to stop poaching can no longer focus merely on the poorest of the poor. Without other ways to improve their livelihoods, even poachers who can meet their basic needs will continue poaching. For one really simple reason: it pays.

Eli Knapp, Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies, Biology and Earth Science, Houghton College

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Australia must embrace transformation for a sustainable future



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Judy van der Velden/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Shirin Malekpour, Monash University

Last Friday, the Australian government released its first report on our progress towards meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

These 17 goals are a call to action to ensure economic prosperity and social inclusion, while protecting the planet. They cover issues ranging from health to reducing inequalities and clean energy.

According to the report, Australia has made some steady progress towards most of our goals.




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However, to achieve the goals in just 12 years from now, we need transformative actions. These are missing in the report. Without a strong vision and new models of partnership between government, industry and communities, we will not meet the 2030 deadline.

What the report says

In 2015, most of the world’s nations signed up to the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda. In July this year, Australia will present its first voluntary review of progress towards the goals at the UN. These reviews are a crucial component of accountability.

Australia’s Voluntary National Review (for which I facilitated a consultation workshop to give input from the university sector) is a showcase of policies, actions and initiatives from across different sectors that are, in the report’s language, “relevant” to achieving the goals.

The report highlights that Australia is a prosperous and generally healthy country. But it also acknowledges significant challenges, such as improving the health and prosperity of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and helping workers in the resources or manufacturing sectors who are facing technological and industrial transitions.




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Climate action is the key to Australia achieving the Sustainable Development Goals


The report highlights that local councils, statutory authorities, businesses and universities are taking actions that are explicitly aligned with the global goals. For example, a number of Australian universities have signed a commitment to the goals and are including the 2030 Agenda in their curricula.

However, no sector has fundamentally changed its practices in response to the Sustainable Development Goals, nor embedded the goals into its core business.

At the national level, there has been limited specific engagement with the goals. Most of the national policies outlined in the report were developed for other reasons, and some have been around for years or decades. Examples are the National Disability Strategy, which dates back to pre-2010, or the National Drought Policy, which began in 1992. In other words, at the national level, the report emphasises what we have already been doing – not new initiatives explicitly related to the goals.

Notwithstanding success stories from across different sectors, the reality is that we will not be able to meet the goals in just 12 years on a business-as-usual trajectory. Instead, we need transformative plans across all sectors.

What is transformative change?

Sustainable development, as opposed to conventional development, involves big systemic transformations. Let’s use the example of clean energy.

Taking carbon out of our energy system is not simply about using wind and solar instead of coal. It involves big changes in how we consume energy, in manufacturing technologies and in the ways governments help (or hinder) the adoption of new technologies and practices. It requires systemic transformation, rather than incremental improvements.

Research into systemic transformation has identified a range of factors for making change happen. Two critical factors are creative decision-making and strong partnerships across disciplines and sectors. If we are serious about achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we need to act now.

Transformative decision-making

Conventional decision-making favours the status quo and is largely risk-averse. It can cope with small incremental changes, but not big ones. In transport, for instance, we often tend to augment or replicate existing infrastructure – building another highway, for example – rather than innovating by trying to get people out of their cars.

Conventional decision-making also prefers to react: we often wait for a crisis situation and then quickly respond. This almost always favours short-term over long-term benefits.

Transformative decision-making, on the other hand, is proactive and takes deliberate actions to shape a desired future. It works toward a long-term vision and doesn’t shy away from uncertainty and complexity along the way.

As Australia’s review correctly acknowledges, the Sustainable Development Goals are all about “longstanding, complex policy challenges with no simple solutions”. Solving complex problems requires a great deal of innovation and experimentation. We need governments, businesses and communities to be willing to try new things, even if they occasionally fail.

Developing partnerships

Improving the lives of people and the planet requires myriad skills, tapping into various networks and reaching out to all segments of society.

Universities, for instance, often play a key role in analysing problems, developing new solutions and providing the evidence base that a solution actually works. But it is only through partnering with communities, businesses and policy organisations that they can put these solutions into practice.




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Universities must act now on sustainability goals


The Voluntary National Review has highlighted the role of cross-sectoral partnerships. What is missing is a plan for fostering the partnerships that can enable substantial change in just 12 years.

The ConversationAs Australia prepares to present our progress report at the 2018 UN High Level Political Forum in July, we need more critical assessment of our performance. How can we start doing things differently to be able to celebrate achieving these ambitious global goals in 2030?

Shirin Malekpour, Research Leader in Strategic Planning and Futures Studies, Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Scientists create new building material out of fungus, rice and glass


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Fungal bricks have the potential to create safer and more sustainable buildings.
V Anisimov / Shutterstock

Tien Huynh, RMIT University and Mitchell Jones, RMIT University

Would you live in a house made of fungus? It’s not just a rhetorical question: fungi are the key to a new low-carbon, fire-resistant and termite-deterring building material.

This type of material, known as a mycelium composite, uses the Trametes versicolor fungus to combine agricultural and industrial waste to create lightweight but strong bricks. It’s cheaper than synthetic plastics or engineered wood, and reduces the amount of waste that goes to landfill.




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Affordable, sustainable, high-quality urban housing? It’s not an impossible dream


What a fun guy

Fungal brick prototypes made from rice hulls and glass fines waste.
Tien Huynh, Author provided

Working with our colleagues, we used fungus to bind rice hulls (the thin covering that protects rice grains) and glass fines (discarded, small or contaminated glass). We then baked the mixture to produce a new, natural building material.

Making these fungal bricks is a low-energy and zero-carbon process. Their structure means they can be moulded into many shapes. They are therefore suited to a variety of uses, particularly in the packaging and construction industries.

A staple crop for more than half the world’s population, rice has an annual global consumption of more than 480 million metric tonnes and 20% of this is comprised of rice hulls. In Australia alone, we generate about 600,000 tonnes of glass waste a year. Usually these rice hulls and glass fines are incinerated or sent to landfill. So our new material offers a cost-effective way to reduce waste.

Fire fighter

Fungal bricks make ideal fire-resistant insulation or panelling. The material is more thermally stable than synthetic construction materials such as polystyrene and particleboard, which are derived from petroleum or natural gas.

Rice hulls, glass fines and the mixture of rice, glass and fungus, before baking.
Wikipedia/Tien Huynh, Author provided

This means that fungal bricks burn more slowly and with less heat, and release less smoke and carbon dioxide than their synthetic counterparts. Their widespread use in construction would therefore improve fire safety.

Thousands of fires occur every year and the main causes of fatalities are smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning. By reducing smoke release, fungal bricks could allow more time for escape or rescue in the event of a fire, thus potentially saving lives.




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How can we build houses that better withstand bushfires?


Bug battler

Termites are a big issue: more than half of Australia is highly susceptible to termite infestations. These cost homeowners more than A$1.5 billion a year.

Our construction material could provide a solution for combating infestations, as the silica content of rice and glass would make buildings less appetising to termites.




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Hidden housemates: the termites that eat our homes


The use of these fire-and-termite-resistant materials could simultaneously revolutionise the building industry and improve waste recycling.

Figure 3. Termite infestation zones in Australia.
termitesonline.com.au, Author provided

This is an exciting time to get creative about our waste. With China no longer buying Australia’s recycling – and new rules reducing plastic use in Australian supermarkets – we have the chance to move in line with communities in Japan, Sweden and Scotland that have near-zero waste.

Fungal bricks could be just one example of the creative thinking that will help us get there.


The Conversation


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The next step in sustainable design: Bringing the weather indoors


Tien Huynh, Senior Lecturer in the School of Sciences, RMIT University and Mitchell Jones, PhD Student, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Baobab trees have more than 300 uses but they’re dying in Africa



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An ancient giant.
Shutterstock

Aida Cuní Sanchez, University of York

Nine of 13 of Africa’s oldest and largest baobab trees have died in the past decade, it has been reported. These trees, aged between 1,100 and 2,500 years, appear to be victims of climate change. Scientists speculate that warming temperatures have either killed the trees directly or have made them weaker and more susceptible to drought, diseases, fire or wind.

Old baobabs are not the only trees which are affected by climatic changes. Ponderosa pine and Pinyon forests in the American West are dying at an increasing rate as the summers get warmer in the region. In Hawaii the famous Ohi’a trees are also dying at faster rates than previously recorded.

There are nine species of baobab trees in the world: one in mainland Africa, Adansonia digitata, (the species that can grow to the largest size and to the oldest age), six in Madagascar, and one in Australia. The mainland African baobab was named after the French botanist Michel Adanson, who described the baobab trees in Senegal.

The African baobab is a remarkable species. Not only because of it’s size and lifespan but also in the special way it grows multiple fused stems. In the space between these stems (called false cavities) bark grows, which is unique to the baobab.

Since baobabs produce only faint growth rings, the researchers used radiocarbon dating to analyse samples taken from different parts of each tree’s trunk and determined that the oldest (which is now dead) was more that 2,500-years-old.

Adansonia digitata can get to 2,500-years-old.
Bernard Dupont/Flickr, CC BY-SA

They also have more than 300 uses. The leaves, rich in iron, can be boiled and eaten like spinach. The seeds can be roasted to make a coffee substitute or pressed to make oil for cooking or cosmetics. The fruit pulp has six times more vitamin C than oranges, making it an important nutritional complement in Africa and in the European, US and Canadian markets.

Locally, fruit pulp is made into juice, jam, or fermented to make beer. The young seedlings have a taproot which can be eaten like a carrot. The flowers are also edible. The roots can be used to make red dye, and the bark to make ropes and baskets.

Baobab fruit:
Author provided

Baobabs also have medicinal properties, and their hollow trunks can be used to store water. Baobab crowns also provide shade, making them an idea place for a market in many rural villages. And of course, the trade in baobab products provides an income for local communities.

Baobab trees also play a big part in the cultural life of their communities, being at the centre of many African oral stories. They even appear in The Little Prince.

A spiritual force.
Shutterstock

Cultivating baobab

Baobab trees are not only useful to humans, they are key ecosystem elements in the dry African savannas. Importantly, baobab trees keep soil conditions humid, favour nutrient recycling and avoid soil erosion. They also act as an important source of food, water and shelter for a wide range of animals, including birds, lizards, monkeys and even elephants – which can eat their bark to provide some moisture when there is no water nearby. The flowers are pollinated by bats, which travel long distances to feed on their nectar. Numerous insects also live on the baobab tree.

Easy to fit inside.
Shutterstock

Ancient as they are, baobab trees can be cultivated, as some communities in West Africa have done for generations. Some farmers are discouraged by the fact that they can take 15-20 years to fruit – but recent research has shown by grafting the branches of fruiting trees to seedlings they can fruit in five years.

Many “indigenous” trees show great variation in fruit morphological and nutritional properties – and it takes years of research and selection to find the best varieties for cultivation. This process, called domestication, does not refer to genetic engineering, but the selection and cultivation of the best trees of those available in nature. It seems straightforward, but it takes time to find the best trees – meanwhile many of them are dying.

The ConversationThe death of these oldest and largest baobab trees is very sad, but hopefully the news will motivate us to protect the world’s remaining large baobabs and start a process of close monitoring of their health. And, hopefully, if scientists are able to perfect the process of identifying the best trees to cultivate, one day they will become as common in our supermarkets as apples or oranges.

Aida Cuní Sanchez, Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Lowy Institute Poll shows Australians’ support for climate action at its highest level in a decade


Matt McDonald, The University of Queensland

The annual Lowy Institute Poll on Australian attitudes to the world and global issues for 2018 has been released. Among a series of interesting findings, one thing is clear: support for climate action and renewable energy continue to grow.

In response to the survey’s questions on climate and energy, 59% of respondents agreed with the statement: “climate change is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs.”


Lowy Institute Poll 2018

This represents an increase of 5 percentage points from 2017, and a consistent increase in support for this statement over the past six years. It suggests that support for climate action in Australia is bouncing back towards its high point of 68% in the first set of Lowy Polls in 2006.




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What’s more, while the federal government doggedly pursues a “technology-neutral” energy policy, Australians don’t seem to be buying it. Public support for a large-scale energy transition in Australia is even more emphatic than support for climate action.

According to the Lowy poll, which involved a nationally representative sample of 1,200 adults, 84% of Australians support the statement that “the government should focus on renewables, even if this means we may need to invest more in infrastructure to make the system more reliable”.


Lowy Institute Poll 2018

This is a staggering verdict, one that casts a shadow over Australia’s rising greenhouse emissions and the looming Commonwealth-state negotiations over the National Energy Guarantee.

Both figures suggest that most Australians are genuinely concerned about climate change, a finding consistent with the ever-growing scientific consensus.

The big question is: will Australia’s political leaders respond to this support for climate action and energy transition by putting legitimate policy in place?

It’s political

Two key impediments present themselves here, both political.

The first is Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s own party. Most governments around the world that have instituted legitimate climate and energy policies have at some stage faced down their political opponents. But the biggest political opponents to Australian climate action are the government’s own internal pro-coal cabal, featuring former prime minister Tony Abbott and backbench energy committee chair Craig Kelly.

This group has fought their more moderate colleagues tooth and nail on climate and energy policy. In the process they have painted even relatively timid policies – such as the National Energy Guarantee – as extreme or fiscally irresponsible. Abbott even recently claimed he had been misled on whether the Paris targets he announced as a “definite commitment” – a 26-28% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 relative to 2005 – were actual targets.

The second impediment to climate leadership is trepidation on the opposition benches after a bruising decade of climate policy wars. Previously, Kevin Rudd’s Labor had a field day with John Howard’s climate inaction in 2006-07, which coincided with the high point of public concern in Lowy polls.

But the party’s current leadership is all too aware that turning public concern into sustained public consensus is tricky. In the face of Abbott’s scare campaign on carbon pricing and an associated collapse in public support for climate action, Rudd infamously walked away from acting on the “greatest moral challenge”. When Rudd’s successor Julia Gillard finally legislated a carbon price, Abbott promised that the 2013 election, which he duly won, would be a “referendum on the carbon tax”.




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The new Lowy poll continues the trend of an inverse relationship between climate action and public concern. When the federal government is perceived as doing little (such as from 2013 to now), support for strong climate action has grown. But when the government announces or pursues genuine climate action (2007-13), support has waned.

Aligning policy with politics won’t be easy, and will take real leadership. Will we see it from Bill Shorten’s Labor if he wins office?

Security and economics: grounds for hope?

If we can’t rely on our leaders to lead – or even to respond faithfully to public opinion and scientific consensus – is there any hope for strong climate policy in Australia? There is, and it’s in some strange places.

When we think of concerns that might stymie action on issues like climate change, we might think of factors such as national security or economic growth. But in Australia and elsewhere, these concerns are arguably beginning to drive calls for climate action.

In May, a Senate inquiry into the national security implications of climate change concluded that it represents a clear and present danger to Australian security. The Lowy poll suggests that the public endorses this sentiment – Australians ranked climate change as a more pressing threat than cyber attacks, foreign interference, or the rise of China.




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Senate report: climate change is a clear and present danger to Australia’s security


While some Australian politicians are steadfast in their support for coal, despite the questionable economics, mainstream financial institutions and even energy companies like AGL are shifting away from fossil fuels. Far from economic considerations preventing climate action, as they seemed to in the 1990s, the economy might just be starting to drive that action.

The ConversationThe climate message, in short, seems to be reaching the Australian people. But will it get to those we’ve elected to represent us?

Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The privacy problem with camera traps: you don’t know who else could be watching



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A spotted-tailed Quoll detected during a small mammal survey at Carrai Plateau, New South Wales.
Paul Meek, Author provided

Paul D Meek, University of New England; Greg Falzon, University of New England, and James Bishop, University of New England

We use remotely activated cameras – known as camera traps – to study the ecology and population responses of wildlife and pest species in management programs across Australia.

These devices are used widely by scientists, researchers and managers to detect rare wildlife, monitor populations, study behaviour and measure long term wildlife population health.

But the lack of transparency surrounding how these images are transmitted, where they are stored, and who has access to them in transit, has scientists worried.

We’ve discovered that images captured by these devices may potentially be accessed by more than those intended, and that this could pose potential privacy breaches, and even poaching risks.




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Publish and don’t perish – how to keep rare species’ data away from poachers


A chance discovery

It was an accidental discovery that our images can travel from the field to big overseas internet servers. We had not considered the transmission path of our images, and who may have access to them along the way.

Manufacturers have developed camera traps that are capable of transmitting image data using the telecommunications network (in Australia this is 3G and soon to move to 4G).

Most of these camera trap models can transmit images using both MMS (Multi Media Message Service), where the image is sent in an SMS (Short Message Service) to a smart phone, and via SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), where the image is transmitted to an email address.

A 3G camera trap set in the Strzelecki Desert and sending images to the authors email and phone.
PM, Author provided

In Australia, when you buy a 3G compatible camera trap you just need to add a SIM card from a service provider. The images will then be sent from the camera trap at a field site to your work or home in seconds. This process is made simple for users by manufacturers who set up default settings to assist you in programming the camera trap.

If, like most people, you don’t over-ride the default settings, then your data will be managed for you. An attractive offer, especially for those people who are not tech-savvy or who don’t have time to fiddle around with programming equipment.

But where are your images going? Who has the legal right to access and store them? How secure is each stage of the transmission path, and are your images being used without your knowledge?




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Explainer: what is 4G?


An evaluation process

Our research team has been evaluating the transmission of images via SMTP for a larger research project, aimed at developing camera trap transmission via satellite.

We have been testing and comparing several models of 3G camera trap, which includes evaluating the message structure and headers.

It was these investigations that revealed some alarming information that pose several potential risks to camera trap users when a camera trap is set up using the default settings for SMTP transmission.

Each manufacturer will use different methods, but in essence when an image is transferred through some 3G telecommunication service, the image is sent to one or more web-servers, where the image may be stored, then sent to the recipient email address or phone.

These servers can be in any country. Our investigations of the five models we tested identified that images are being sent via some large, well-known Asian and North American companies. The exact location of each server, and the full transmission pathway cannot be fully known.

Exactly what happens to these images during transmission also remains unknown. But most practitioners we have spoken to have no idea their images could potentially be going to servers overseas, so it raises several concerns for users.

A privacy concern

One of our foremost concerns is how legal professionals would interpret ownership and distribution of images of people under privacy legislation. Camera traps deployed to detect wildlife often detect unsuspecting people walking past.

A harmless image of an un-suspecting person walking past a camera trap could end up in a court of law if the image is used without their permission.
Paul Meek, Author provided

It’s a legal mine field when a camera trap user potentially distributes an image of a person without their permission.

It was an issue raised back in 2012 when an unnamed Austrian politician was caught in a sexual encounter by a camera trap. In that case the image wasn’t released publicly but it raised concerns over a potential breach of privacy.

In Australia, such an image belongs to the person who is photographed irrespective of where the images were taken, so strictly speaking they could pursue legal action against anyone distributing it.

Clearly there would be extenuating circumstances, but whether or not there is a case to be answered is yet to be tested and would depend on the country and legislation involved.

Camera traps are also used for security purposes by authorities, farmers and members of the public, so potential legal and sensitive data could be distributed over the internet. As there is a lack of transparency surrounding the transmission pathway, storage, and usage of the data, this could be a huge concern.

In Australia, this might constitute a breach under the Privacy Act 1988 dependent on the whether any personal data is disclosed and the potential for serious harm which might result.

All in the cloud

The Australian government has released policy and guidelines concerning the protection of data privacy when using cloud services.

But these requirements might not extend, or have not been adopted, in the context of technological based ecology monitoring and so valuable data could currently be leaving Australian shores.

How this data is used is also largely unknown. It may serve many commercial purposes for companies, such as data mining, advertising, and machine learning and artificial intelligence development, to name but a few. Exactly what country, where and how securely the data is stored remains a mystery.

Of real concern for many international wildlife conservation groups is the potential misuse of wildlife images that could identify threatened species and locations. This information could be illegally accessed by poachers, or those looking to sell the data for profit.

Our disclaimer here is that we have no evidence to prove or deny that such practices are occurring, but the potential exists and the lack of transparency is alarming.




Read more:
Scientists are accidentally helping poachers drive rare species to extinction


Reducing the risk

Until recently we did not fully comprehend the risks we were taking by using 3G camera traps without taking some precautions. Like most, we accepted that our data was safe and controlled by Australian telecommunications systems, and had no concept that the images may be transmitted or stored by servers overseas.

We now know the risks and that in many cases this image management protocol can be circumvented by over-riding the camera’s default settings. In the ideal world every user would know the full transmission pathway of the image and could take steps to make sure it is as secure as practically possible. Given this is not possible, we recommend that where possible, users program camera traps to send SMTP images direct to an email address that they have more control over.

The ConversationIt will take a little extra time to program the camera traps, but at least users will have more control over the path of their image from the field to any receiving device.

The right thing captured in the camera trap: a spotted-tailed Quoll.
Paul Meek, Author provided

Paul D Meek, Adjunct Lecturer in School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England; Greg Falzon, Lecturer in Computational Science, University of New England, and James Bishop, PhD candidate, software engineer, University of New England

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Proposed NSW logging laws value timber over environmental protection



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Increased logging in NSW could affect threatened species.
Nativesrule, Author provided

Oisín Sweeney, University of Sydney

New South Wales is revamping its logging laws for the first time in two decades, drafting regulations that will govern more than two million hectares of public native forest.

Among the changes are proposals to permit logging in exclusion zones – part of the reserve system – and dramatic increases to the scale and intensity of logging, putting several threatened species at direct risk.

NSW can implement these changes unilaterally. But if it does, NSW will effectively be asking the federal government to agree to changes that directly contradict the federal Threatened Species Strategy and several species recovery plans, and reduce the extent of the reserve system.




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Native forest protections are deeply flawed, yet may be in place for another 20 years


Regional Forest Agreements

The federal government has arrangements with the states called Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs). They provide certainty to logging operations by accrediting state logging rules under federal environment law. No other industry gets this treatment – but RFAs are now expiring after having been in place for 20 years.

But the proposed changes to NSW logging laws clearly prioritise timber extraction over environmental protection. In 2014 the NSW government extended wood supply agreements with timber companies, locking in a commitment to logging at a certain level. The changes are cited as necessary to meet these wood supply agreements.

This means abandoning commitments made under the National Forest Policy Statement in 1992, including the concept of ecologically sustainable forest management. This is a fundamental shift and, because of the impacts on the reserve system and threatened species, against the national interest.




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Overlogging is behind the changes

In its 2016 Forestry Industry Roadmap the NSW government made a dual commitment to maintain logging levels without eroding environmental protection. However, the NSW Natural Resources Commission tasked with finding a way to do this reported “it is not possible to meet the government’s commitments around both environmental values and wood supply”.

The commission therefore recommended the NSW government “remap and rezone” old-growth forest and rainforest to increase the area that can be logged and make up timber shortfalls.

There are three kinds of zones that make up protected forest reserves. The first zone requires an act of state parliament to revoke, but the second and third can be revoked by the state forestry minister.

To further increase timber supply, headwater stream buffers – areas around waterways that cannot be logged – will be reduced from 10 metres to five.

The new laws also permit the logging of giant trees up to 140cm in diameter, or 160cm in the case of blackbutt and alpine ash (preferred timber species).

Northeast NSW to see the biggest changes

In northeast NSW, a new “intensive harvesting zone” will cover 140,000 hectares of coastal forests between Taree and Grafton. These forests are in the Forests of East Australia global biodiversity hotspot and many are included in a proposed Great Koala National Park.




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This will see 45-hectare patches of forest cleared of all but a smattering of small trees. The intensity of logging everywhere else in the “selective” harvesting zone will, on average, double.

Implications for wildlife and forest ecosystems

The new proposals move towards a retention model where habitat features are to be retained in clumps over several logging cycles. This “retention approach” is good in theory, but is undermined by the landscape-wide intensification of logging – particularly in the intensive zone – and the need to maximise timber production, not the conservation of forest species.

Although hollow-bearing trees are to be retained, no younger trees – which will eventually replace their elders – are required to be protected. This means the inevitable loss of hollow-bearing trees, exacerbated by logging rezoned old-growth. There is no longer any requirement to protect eucalypt nectar trees, vital resources for the critically endangered regent honeyeater and swift parrot.

A report on the proposals from the Threatened Species Expert Panel reveals that almost no data was available to design the new environmental protections, and there was great uncertainty as to whether they will work. One panel member commented:

The intensive harvesting zones are being formally introduced to prop up an unsustainable wood supply arrangement at the expense of the environment.

It is frustrating trying to be part of the solution when the underlying driver of the wood supply agreements fundamentally restricts any chance of a balanced approach.

The federal government has a problem

The federal government has already committed to extending Regional Forest Agreements with the states. Yet besides potentially reducing the size of the reserve network, NSW’s proposals directly threaten federally-listed species.

Conservation advice for the marsupial greater glider clearly states the impact of habitat loss and fragmentation through intensive logging.

Greater gliders (Petauroides volans) are vulnerable to loss of tree hollows and habitat fragmentation, which will both be exacerbated under NSW’s proposals.
Dave Gallan

Koalas prefer large trees and mature forests, yet the intensive logging zone will cover almost half of identified high quality koala habitat. Legally, loggers will only have to keep 10 trees of 20cm diameter per hectare – far too few and too small for koalas.

The national recovery plan for the swift parrot proposes the retention of all trees over 60cm diameter – clearly incompatible with the proposed intensive harvesting zone – while the recovery plan for the regent honeyeater identifies all breeding and foraging habitat as critical to survival.

Recent research has predicted a 31% probability of swift parrot extinction in the next 20 years, and a 57% probability for the regent honeyeater. Both birds are priority species under the Australian government’s Threatened Species Strategy.

Public feedback on the proposed changes is invited until June 29. After that, the federal government must decide whether it deems the proposals to be consistent with national environment law in a new Regional Forest Agreement. Signing off on these changes will cast serious doubt on the federal government’s commitment to the national environmental interest.




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The ConversationThe author would like to acknowledge the contribution of Dailan Pugh, OAM and co-founder of the North East Forest Alliance, to this article.

Oisín Sweeney, Senior Ecologist at the National Parks Association of NSW, Research Fellow, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.