School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

Student coders triumph at London ZooHackathon

A group of QMUL students were on the winning team of the London ZooHackathon, a computer coding and technology event which aims to tackle wildlife trafficking. Environmental Science student Marysia Clouter, who was part of the winning team, took our third year module Ecology and Conservation, which she says was instrumental in developing her understanding of the natural world.

21 October 2016

news image

A group shot of the winning team

Taking place in zoos across the world, from Sydney to Singapore, the ZooHackathon is a U.S State Department initiative that gives participants 48 hours of creative coding to work on tech projects to tackle demand for illegal wildlife projects.  The London event took place at ZSL London Zoo, and the winning team ‘Lookout’ won a £2,000 prize fund. They will also have the assistance of ZSL’s own pioneering Conservation Technology Unit (CTU) in turning their idea into reality.

The London teams’ final ideas will be submitted into the global competition against submissions from across the USA and Australia, with ultimate winners claiming the overall $10,000 prize fund

We caught up with Marysia Clouter to find out more about her team’s winning idea.

I am so, so grateful for the Tropical Ecology and Conservation module...because it opened my eyes to the challenges we face today with the natural world.

Congratulations to you and your teammates! Who was on your team?

Thank you very much! It was with two other Queen Mary students from engineering. We had a team of 10 people trying to come up with a solution to try and combat the illegal wildlife trade across the world, by targeting travellers who (sometimes) unknowingly fuel the demand for the illegal wildlife trade by buying products that are sourced from poached animals. The other students (one ex-student) at Queen Mary are Caroline Fletcher, third year BEng Design Innovation and Creative Engineering, and Billie Moore, BEng Materials and Design graduate.

Maryisa in South Africa on our Ecology and Conservation field trip
Maryisa in South Africa on our Ecology and Conservation field trip

You took our third year Tropical Ecology and Conservation module. Did it help you at all during the competition?

I am so, so grateful for the Tropical Ecology and Conservation module, not only because it is so fresh in my mind still, but also because it opened my eyes to the challenges we face today with the natural world. 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.
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. It was initially through the study of plant life in the module that the extent of the recent and ongoing drought in South Africa was seen by the students on the course (and how the plants can adapt and survive in such dry climates). The course integrated the issues of wildlife conservation, political instability and climate change – challenges that we will continue to face in a rapidly changing world.

Marysia and her teammate collecting the winnings
Marysia and her teammate collecting the winnings

Tell us more about your winning project.

Lookout - 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 them from inadvertently driving the illicit trade.  As well as designing a powerful, predictive online platform that coordinates information on illegally-trafficked items so they are searchable by the tourists at their destinations, the team also devised a communications plan to raise awareness of the issue, including automatically embedding relevant information at points throughout a traveller’s booking process. 
You can have a look at the Facebook page and project outline for the global competition.

More information