Scientists Accidentally Help Poachers Kill Endangered Species

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Scientific studies on rare or endangered species may accidentally help poachers kill them, a commentary published Friday by Australian National University concluded.

The authors argued publishing studies with the locations of rare species could drive them to extinction by making it easy for poachers to find them. The authors called on researchers to adopt a policy of strategic “self-censorship” to shield the animals and plants they study.

“For some of the really important species, if we don’t do something they’re going to get wiped off the map,” David Lindenmayer, the lead author and a conservation biologist at The Australian National University, said in a statement. “The era of online data, of open-access data, data in real time, all those kinds of things, opens up a whole new set of opportunities for people who want to poach animals.”

Lindenmayer said scientific research into rare Chinese cave geckos made it vastly easier for poachers to target the species. These geckos are regularly targeted by poachers. If scientists withheld the information about new discoveries of the gecko, it could help to ensure the species’ survival in the wild.

Many species are likely targets for poachers, so the study suggests only sharing detailed information about where the species is found only with government agencies, while hiding it from the public. The study calls for secrecy to be handled on a case-by-case basis between scientists and sources of scientific information like journals.

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