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Business

AFP
March 13, 2018

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Hi-tech activists fight Indonesia wildlife crime

Jakarta: From cutting-edge DNA barcoding to smartphone apps that can identify illegal wildlife sales, conservationists are turning to hi-tech tools in their battle against Indonesia´s animal traffickers.

Spread across more than 17,000 islands, the Southeast Asian nation´s dense tropical rainforests boast some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world, from scaly pangolins to the endangered orangutan.

But that enormous array of flora and fauna means Indonesia is also on the frontline of an illicit global trade estimated to be worth as much as $23 billion a year -- a shadowy operation bringing some species to the brink of extinction.

To tackle the problem, conservationists have begun using a slew of new gadgets to protect the archipelago´s rare and threatened wildlife. "Without a doubt (technology) is probably one of the largest resources that will help the good guys get the bad guys," Matthew Pritchett, from anti-trafficking group Freeland Foundation, told AFP.

To keep pace with these vast trafficking groups, activists are now deploying the kind of technology once reserved for combating drug cartels and crime lords. For instance, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which works with Indonesian authorities to halt wildlife crime, uses similar computer software to map criminal networks and extract data from seized electronic devices.

Conservation group International Animal Rescue Indonesia (IAR) is examining crime scene evidence with the help of DNA barcoding -- a taxonomic method that relies on short genetic sequences to identify species.

Tissue samples from confiscated animals can be cross-referenced with a database of stored genetic codes, helping to unambiguously differentiate between species and sub-species -- not all of which may be endangered.

For instance, IAR is building a barcode database for different species of slow loris, a cute but venomous primate being hunted to extinction for use in traditional Chinese medicine. "If we have animals with a known origin and we have animals that appear, for example, in Jakarta, we can then compare the genetic samples," Christine Rattel, IAR programme advisor, told AFP.

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