Google Earth is a free website which shows satellite images of neighborhoods, beaches, business districts, and other land all over the world. Unfortunately, Google Earth also posts satellite images of the elephant regions. When elephant poachers visit Google Earth, they can easily see the main elephant waterholes and migration trails. Armed with the GPS coordinates, they head straight to the elephants.
Although there are many causes for elephant poaching, Google Earth’s easy access to images of protected national parks, game reserves and their buffer zones are more of a threat to elephants than any other piece of modern technology.
If Google Earth were to block out such images, poachers would have to find the elephants on their own or ask local villagers to direct them. Even if some villagers complied, the poachers would be forced to spend many more hours searching for animal trails, watering holes and elephants, and they would ultimately kill far fewer.
Of course, entrenched poachers could save screen shots before Google Earth blocked any images, but they might not think of that. In any case, the images would be blocked for future poachers. Because the smaller waterholes and animal trails change each season, a black-out now would help in a few months.
Some people might say that the people who live and work in these areas deserve the chance to have Google Earth, however, very few people live in or near the parks, reserves and buffer zones, and the ones who do are mostly cattle pastoralists and sustenance farmers who have no access to computers, or at least no need for Google Earth images. The only complaints might come from the tourists and scientists who would like to know where the elephants are.
It seems that close-up satellite images would be helpful to all kinds of poachers the world over. Thus it is strange that Google Earth has not rectified its part in helping poachers, especially as Google has joined the USA Wildlife Tracking Alliance in an effort to raise awareness about poaching and encourage other companies to stop selling and shipping illegal animal products (Platt).
Small water sources such as this narrow, meandering river -- which nourish thousands of animals -- show up on Google Earth, making it easy for poachers to drive or walk straight to the animals.
Even water holes this size appear on Google Earth.
Elephant trails such as this one, which are full of running water during the rainy season, but provide a dry path during the dry season, show up on Google Earth.
Wide, well-used trails such as this one show up as prominent lines on Google Earth. You will often see downed trees like this. Although some fall as a result of lightning strikes, most are knocked over by elephants.