Geotagged Wildlife Photos Help Poachers Kill Endangered Animals


If you care about endangered animals that are hunted for their parts, here’s something important you should keep in mind: make sure you scrub the GPS data on the images prior to sharing them online. Poachers have reportedly been turning to geotagged photos on social networks in order to find out where they can make their next kill.

A photograph that has recently been making the rounds on the Web shows a sign that has been put up at an undisclosed reserve. It reads:

Please be careful when sharing photos on social media. They can lead poachers to our rhino

Turn off geotag function and do not disclose where the photo was taken

Quartz did some searching and was able to find this geotagged photo of a wild rhino in Kenya. The photo was captured back in 2011, so it no longer puts the animal at risk, but it shows how easily an ill-willed poacher might be able to find something similar in order to inform them about their next hunt.

“Photographers” are leading poachers to animals intentionally as well. In a 2012 interview with the Sunday Times, South African national park representative Marc Reading stated that poachers are sending young people on safaris to shoot rhinos with GPS-enabled cameras. “The exact co-ordinates are attached to the picture, allowing poachers to come in after dark and track the animal.”

This malicious use of geotagged photographs is reminiscent of a case back in 2012 in which insurgents were able to destroy four Apache helicopters at a base in Iraq after soldiers posted geotagged pictures of the new fleet online.

(via Quartz)

Thanks for sending in the tip, Sara!

Image credits: Photograph by Heather Paul

  • ST84Photography

    Cheers for sharing this, Michael. As cameras and camera phones become ever more ubiquitous, we really need to give more thought to the potential effects taking and sharing photographs can have.

    As a society, we’ve never really had to think of things like this until now. I can fully understand people just not realising the consequences, but hopefully that will change.

  • Uncle Wig

    So sad. It’s time to turn all the big game hunters loose on the poachers. They get a rewarding hunting experience, and the world gets fewer poachers!

  • Banxy

    I wouldn’t vote to repeal a law that makes this idea legal…

  • Matt

    Really sad that poachers exist in the first place. But, thanks for the info as I would not have thought about it at all.

  • Zambezi Zoro

    Culling poachers is not a completely novel idea. However, most poachers are very poor village/rural people. The problem is the source of the demand. If one could incarcerate all of the poachers in Africa today, by tomorrow the Chinese would only hire new poachers (with the help of corrupt African Government officials) and the slaughter would resume. Yes it does work that way in Africa. The markets (source of the demand) for ivory and rhino horn are strongest by far in the Orient. Lesser species are generally poached for the meat and sometimes for animal parts. The poor rural poachers taking most of the risk would not be missed but I think the Chinese and African governments would protest the idea of foreign nationals and government officials being culled for the good of the animals. I have seen it first hand and I am very concerned that it will eventually result in the extinction (or nearly so) of the elephant and the rhino in rural Africa.

  • Uncle Wig

    Good points. I’d thought that the poachers were beyond the subsistence level; highly organized, well armed & funded. Perhaps not.

  • Zambezi Zoro

    Yes it is very sad and even tragic but to understand it just follow the money. It is possible to purchase ivory carving and ivory chop sticks in China today that were walking around on an elephant in the Selous Reserve in Tanzania three months ago.

    Apparently many people in China are under the impression that elephants shed their tusks each year in much the same way deer and elk shed their antlers. Many expressed shock at this idea when it was explained to them that an elephant was killed for the ivory they covet as a symbol of wealth. As far as rhino horn is concerned, it is widely regarded as an aphrodisiac (medicinal purposes my foot) in the Orient.

    I have a close friend in Lusaka, Zambia who recently spoke with a Chinese business man residing in Zambia for the purpose of minerals extraction. Because they man is strongly rumored to be involved in the ivory trade my friend asked him if he was the least bit concerned about the impact on the elephant population, suggesting extinction would be the outcome once breeding herds fell below the point of species viability. He said the response from the Chinese business man was “well there aren’t any dragons anymore either.. so what?” Yes it is an ancient and beautiful culture but it seems morality is not significant to some of the newly wealthy middle class in China. Locally in Zambia, they are often

    referred to as the locusts.

  • Zambezi Zoro

    You are correct to an extent. Poaching has become big business and some poaching groups are as you say. I was in Southern Zimbabwe last August as the discovery was made of more than 300 elephant carcases found in Hwange (pronounced wankey) national park. They had been killed with the use of cyanide provided by an overlord. The local villagers used the cyanide to poison water holes, salt licks, etc. and the tusks were chopped out with axes. Many other species using the water holes or feeding on the poisoned elephants also died.

    The local poachers were caught and sentenced to long prison terms but the “business men” and the ranking members of Zanu PF in Zimbabwe were never identified during the subsequent investigation let alone brought to justice. Just the little rural idiots who did the dirty work.

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