Young techies are designing software to record wildlife crimes in Kerala

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Kerala-based Leopard Tech Labs has plunged into conservation technology with the launch of an app for snakes, Sarpa. The company was founded in Startups Valley at Amal Jyothi College of Engineering in Kanjirapally, Kottayam by two techies, Allen Shaji and Sobin Mathew. In 2018, Leopard Tech Labs partnered with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) to develop a system for the Kerala Forest Service for the first time. Hostile Activity Watch Kernel (HAWK) was created by the Kerala Forest Service to digitally document wildlife crime following the 2015 ivory poaching case. Today, the Kerala Forest Service has fully migrated to this system, moving from a manual to a digital documentation process in a unique initiative.

Allen Shaji and Sobin Mathew, co-founders of Leopard Tech Labs, talk about their conservation technology wing and working on HAWK.

How HAWK was initiated…

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We have a conservation technology division at Leopard Tech Labs and have previously developed wildlife apps. We developed HAWK with Wildlife Trust of India and Forest Service. This came after the ivory poaching case in 2015.

The forest department’s biggest concern was that after a wildlife crime, everything would be documented manually. So the initial discussion was how can we automate the system.

The preservation technology hasn’t been explored much in India by the techies but it has a lot of potential. A lot can be done to protect nature.

Before HAWK was formed, officers had various types of forms, arrest notices. The occurrence of man-made errors, filling in information happened. Here, 24 hours after reporting a violation or entering a violation on the portal, it will be blocked and nobody can update or manipulate the information.

What is HAWK?

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HAWK is a wildlife crime information gathering system. Using the latest digital technology, the system consolidates all information to determine the key factors behind the crime or a possible crime scenario.

Where and when was it introduced?

The pilot phase started in 2019 in five areas in Kerala. We manufactured the first modules and presented them to the forest authority. The system was developed based on the input from the officials.

What changes with HAWK?

Several documents must be submitted to the court for indictment. HAWK can generate all of these documents with minimal data entry.

The main thing here is accuracy. With this minimal data, accurate information can be given. When a case is registered, senior officers receive a message via SMS and email. This makes monitoring more efficient.

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Even if the crime is recorded or documented, senior officials can verify it; such options are available. If there is a problem in the document, they can reject it. If there are mistakes, you can ask them to correct them.

Along with this we have developed a wildlife death management software named shikra. If wild animals die inside or outside the forest, they must also register this, which in turn is reported to senior officials. In what area it happened whether it is poaching or electrocution, robbery, hunting, natural death or any disease – all these causes of death are listed, almost 14-15 causes. When questions are asked in Parliament about wildlife deaths, that information is now picked up by HAWK. For example, with a single click, senior officials can get a report on how many tigers have died in a year.

We’ve also introduced a “habitual offenders” section where we can enter the offender’s physical details. If he has committed two or more crimes, he is also flagged as a common offender. For example, if the same offender has committed a crime in Palakkad, Walayar and Thiruvalla, the system will say that it is a habitual offender and he may commit more crimes.

Analyzing the data from HAWK would be very helpful after five years. For example where an animal dies, what the reasons might be, the time of death and so on. It could be a specific species or a place, a cluster where crime is more common. The Forest Service will look into this.

The author is a multi-award-winning environmental journalist from Coimbatore. This story was produced with support from Oxpeckers Grant for the Investigation of Wildlife Crimes.

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