Oct. 5 (UPI) — GPS-enabled decoy eggs could help authorities track sea turtle egg poachers and disrupt illegal wildlife trade networks.
In a proof-of-concept study, published Monday in the journal Current Biology, researchers placed 3D-printed, GPS-enabled decoy eggs in the nests of endangered sea turtles in Central America.
Using the ingeniously named InvestEGGator, scientists were able to track the contraband from the beach to restaurants and bars where the eggs are sold as a delicacy.
“Our research showed that placing a decoy into a turtle nest did not damage the incubating embryos and that the decoys work,” lead study author Helen Pheasey said in a news release.
“We showed that it was possible to track illegally removed eggs from beach to end consumer as shown by our longest track, which identified the entire trade chain covering 137 kilometers,” said Pheasey, conservation biologist and doctoral student at the University of Kent.
Researchers created the decoy for the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, a request for proposals issued by the United States Agency for International Development. USAID wanted participating groups to come up with technologies that could be used to combat wildlife poaching.
Researcher Kim Williams-Guillen, who works with the conservation organization Paso Pacifico and helped develop the decoy egg, said she was inspired by a pair of her favorite TV shows, Breaking Bad and The Wire.
“In Breaking Bad, the DEA places a GPS tracking device on a tank of chemicals to see who receives the chemicals,” Williams-Guillen said. “In one episode of The Wire, two police officers plant an audio device in a tennis ball to surreptitiously record a suspected drug dealer.”
“Turtle eggs basically look like ping pong balls, and we wanted to know where they were going — put those two ideas together and you have