By Andrew J. O’Brien
Last November, a group of young “hackers” put their programming skills to the test in Colombia’s first-ever Zoohackathon. Embassy Bogotá partnered with Colombia’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (MADS) and other local partners to host the event, Nov. 16-17. Zoohackathon is an event that challenges and empowers young programmers to use their technical skills to address issues posed by wildlife trafficking. In partnership with MADS, the TadeoLab—an innovation space at the University of Bogotá Jorge Tadeo Lozano—and Amazon Web Services (AWS), the Colombian Zoohackathon hosted 40 university-aged participants. The goal of this event is to develop creative technological solutions to address a unique theme and a Zoohackathon first—illegal deforestation.
While the Department of State has sponsored Zoohackathon events internationally since 2016, Colombia’s Zoohackathon was the first competition to address illegal logging. Following Colombia’s 2016 peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (or FARC as it’s more commonly known), illegal deforestation rates spiked as previously inaccessible land became accessible. As armed paramilitary members embraced peace, remote forests in Colombia became safe to exploit, especially by criminal actors. Recent reports from the Environmental Investigation Agency estimate 50 percent of all lumber commercialized in Colombia comes from an illegal or unknown source. As one of the most biodiverse countries on earth, tackling deforestation in Colombia has become environmentalists’ key concern to protect at-risk species and preserve unique ecosystems.
During the 2019 Zoohackathon event in Colombia, participants divided into teams to develop usable solutions and present them to a panel of judges. The teams received technical mentorship from MADS, AWS, and the winners of the 2018 Global Zoohackathon. Team Quantum won first place for their solution, which combined hardware and software to track the position and weight of trucks transporting lumber to determine if they are complying with their permits. Team Quantum’s solution went on to also win first place in the 2019 Global Zoohackathon.
Andrew J. O’Brien is an intern at Embassy Bogotá.