The Challenge

Wildlife trafficking is one of the world’s most nefarious challenges. Trafficking in poached and living wildlife is decimating populations of iconic animals such as elephants, rhinos, and tigers. More quietly, the world faces the permanent loss of fauna as diverse as pangolins and tortoises. Local communities are losing livelihoods and their natural identities and are becoming literal battlegrounds in a fight for survival. The once occasional link between wildlife trafficking and gun, drug, and human trafficking is now a highway that involves transnational organized criminals. This illegal trade is driven by demand for exotic pets, delicacies, jewelry, decorations, and traditional medicines. Even countries that are not destination markets can play roles as transit routes. The rate of trafficking has spiked over the last few years, and time is against us. The United States and countries around the world are leading international efforts to stop this scourge and bring kingpins to justice. But can we do more to bring new tools and approaches to the table? How can we change attitudes, raise awareness, and enable consumers to make informed choices to support wildlife-based tourism and reduce the demand that fuels this global threat?

The Concept


On July 1, 2013, an Executive Order was issued calling for the U.S. Government to take steps to combat the growing threat of wildlife trafficking. That Order officially launched the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking (Task Force), composed of government interagency members tasked with crafting and executing a National Strategy on Combating Wildlife Trafficking, and with working with non-governmental members and organizations on the Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking and beyond. From the beginning, the U.S. Government sought a wide range of partners across the world to address this complex global problem. On World Wildlife Day (March 3) 2016 – a day commemorating the creation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, or CITES – the Task Force released its first assessment report in a one-of-a-kind event at the U.S. Department of State. Also on that World Wildlife Day, officials from the State Department and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, announced the inaugural “Zoohackathon.”

Zoohackathon is a project supported in part by the U.S. Government’s Task Force on Combating Wildlife Trafficking to address two of the three pillars of the National Strategy: demand reduction and increasing international cooperation. But Zoohackathon has quickly grown to encompass efforts by non-governmental organizations, other national actors, and conservation and technology actors around the world.

The Hackathon Model

Hackathons have become a staple in Silicon Valley and beyond for developing solutions to problems facing the tech community. In recent years, the idea of “civic hacking” has taken root and not only brought formerly disparate fields together to bring focus to important new subject matters, but also helped create new methods for and brought new minds to tackling the complex problem of how to combat wildlife trafficking.

Through Zoohackathon, U.S. Embassies work with leading wildlife conservation and technology organizations around the world to organize 48-hour events aimed at developing usable solutions to on-the-ground wildlife trafficking challenges. At the end of the hackathons, teams pitch their ideas to an expert panel of judges. Local winners will receive prizes and winners from regional hackathon are also eligible to compete for the global prize.