Open Access and… Animals?

Image of a blue and white bird flying over a lake with mountains in the background.
Source: Pixabay.

This post was guest authored by Scholarly Communication and Publishing Graduate Assistant Paige Kuester.


The modern research landscape is an asset for biologists, zoologists, conservationists, etc. They can track animals, check up on them, figure out what is helping or harming their environment, and report or adjust accordingly. They tag animals and create twitter handles for them to tweet out their location (source). They can also create crowdsourcing research methods in order to utilize the interest of the public. And with open access, researchers can easily pass this information on to the public, so that they can create even more awareness and participation, too.

Great, right?

Maybe not. Think about who else has access to that information.

Poachers. Yes, we are still living in an age of poachers. This isn’t just your Tarzan poachers tromping through the jungle, though there is still some of that. This is much more threatening.

Poachers don’t have to track animals anymore, because scientists are doing that for them. Poachers can just gather data posted online through open access sources, and plan out their trip. Crowd-sourced research and tourists apps can also provide this information. If poachers are really nifty, they can tap into radio signals and the like that are sending out locations from the animal tags to the researchers.

One way that researchers can combat this is to not post such specific locations and data on animals that are likely to be poached, especially when publishing with an open access journal. Those in charge of apps can not make information about endangered species publicly available. It is a little more difficult to deter signal hackers, but monitoring and adding more security to these is one way to curb this unfortunate trend.

Open access is great, spreading information about awesome and endangered animals is great, but leaving them vulnerable to exploitation is not so much. It is a bit like Facebook. Sharing your location and your Friday night plans may be fine when you know it is just your friends seeing this information, but when making it public, maybe don’t advertise that you are going to out of your apartment for weeks on end, leaving your valuables alone and unmonitored. While animal privacy rights are not yet a thing, a little courtesy can go a long way in protecting those who don’t have a say.

Sources:

Hewitt, Sarah. (2017, June 5). Scientists Are Debating Whether Animals have a Right to Privacy. Motherboard. Retrieved from: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/43ydkb/animals-privacy-tracking-data-science-journals-open-access-banff-national-park

Scheele, Benjamin, and David Lindenmayer. (2017, May 25). Scientists Are Accidently Helping Poachers Drive Endangered Species to Extinction. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/scientists-are-accidentally-helping-poachers-drive-rare-species-to-extinction-78342

Welz, Adam. (2017, September 6). Unnatural Surveillance: How Online Data is Putting Species at Risk. Yale Environment 360. Retrieved from http://e360.yale.edu/features/unnatural-surveillance-how-online-data-is-putting-species-at-risk

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