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Student coders triumph at London Zoohackathon

A group of QMUL students were on the winning team at the first ever London Zoohackathon, a computer coding and technology event which aims to tackle wildlife trafficking.

15 November 2016


L-R: Kostie Kontorravdis, Billie Akwa Moore, Kulwant Bhatia (London Judge), Imogen Woods-Wilford and Marysia Clouter

They developed a solution to educate travellers about the products of the illegal wildlife trade that they may find at their destination, with a view to preventing tourists from inadvertently driving the illicit trade.  

The team of 10, named ‘LookOut’, won £2,000 at the event which took place at London Zoo and included Caroline Fletcher (3rd year BEng Design Innovation & Creative Engineering), Marysia Clouter (3rd year BSc Environmental Science) and Billie Moore (BEng Materials & Design graduate 2016).

Billie Moore said: “To win the London Zoohackathon is amazing and the project has a lot of potential to go further. Even in 2016, there still isn't enough being done to educate the world on the illegal wildlife trade. Working on LookOut has made the team realise that most tourists aren’t aware of species that they might find in the area they visit or understand that those earrings or that fridge magnet might be sourced from an endangered animal.”  

Lookout designed a powerful, predictive online platform that coordinates information on illegally-trafficked items so they are searchable by tourists’ destinations. The team also devised a communications plan to raise awareness of the issue, including automatically embedding relevant information at points throughout a travel booking process.

The Zoohackathon is a US State Department initiative that gives participants 48 hours of creative coding to work on tech projects to tackle demand for illegal wildlife projects and has taken place in zoos across the world, from Sydney to Singapore.

As winners, the team will have the assistance of Zoological Society of London’s Conservation Technology Unit in turning their idea into reality.   

Environmental Science student Marysia Clouter, said the Ecology and Conservation module she took was instrumental in developing her understanding of the natural world.

She said: “The same day I went to the Zoohackathon I submitted an article about the implications of trophy hunting in Africa as part of the module, which was incredibly helpful in understanding the bigger picture. We are often quick to condemn the killing of a charismatic species, yet, in so many countries, it is still legal and is branded as trophy hunting. The Zoohackathon was about the other side, those killings deemed as illegal because they are unregulated – poaching.”

She added: “It is also important to understand that plants too are exploited for the illegal wildlife trade, such as the famous rosewood for timber and souvenirs.”

LookOut’s final ideas will be submitted into the global competition with the winners claiming a $10,000 prize fund.

You can have a look at the team’s Facebook page and project outline for the global competition.

The Zoohackathon was also reported in ZSL News and by the Department of State.   

For media information, contact:

Neha Okhandiar
Public Relations Manager
Queen Mary University of London
email: n.okhandiar@qmul.ac.uk
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