When we met her, a couple of years ago, Sabrina Colombo, "ranger" at the Marakele National Park and passionate curator of LEO Africa, told us about the difficult work of combating the poaching that she and her colleagues do every day to protect, for example, the white rhino (but not only). On that occasion, we were surprised by his resistance to leaving us a series of photographs without first having examined them with great attention, because "the details of those photos, which we would have said little about, could instead allow poachers and smugglers expert in those places to recognize the area inhabited by the photographed specimens ", thus unnecessarily putting them at greater risk than they already were. Although we did not doubt the subject, we considered it an "excess of prudence", and yet we must now think again and be glad that we did not insist.

Image An inhabitant of the Marakele National Park. | LEO Africa

Involuntary sources. Poaching and smuggling do not only endanger large savannah animals. It is easy to realize even by yourself the extent of the phenomenon: look on Google for the name of some rare species of gecko, for example, and together with references to Wikipedia and other scientific articles you will see sales offers appear with shipping costs included.

It is the harsh reality with which the biologists and all the researchers and naturalists involved in the study of animals at risk of extinction are coming to terms: we are well beyond prudence to publish some photos.

Graduate poachers. More and more often, those who smuggle rare species are in fact based on scientific publications to find out where animals live and many useful details about their habits, ie the "right" information that will help them capture and maintain them. As an article published in Science points out, there are many rare animals that have suffered the repercussions of the publication of news on their discovery.

The tricks of smugglers

When a scientific article was published in 2012 describing the Borneo lanthanote (Lanthanotus borneensis), a shy semi-aquatic reptile that lives only in the northern part of the island, it took only a year to see the Varanus exit, through illegal channels, from his area (although the exact location of the discovery was not widespread).

Image The red bald Uakari (Cacajao calvus rubicundus), a rare monkey from the rainforests of the Amazon, is threatened with extinction due to poaching and deforestation. Other animals with a mythological appearance | Klickshiff, Flickr

Intrusive tourists. And there is not only the risk of smuggling: even some over-zealous nature enthusiasts go hunting for traces of rare species to photograph, for their own pleasure or to publish photographs in scientific journals.

Their presence ends up disturbing the animals, destroying their microhabitats or spreading diseases - such as chithromiomycosis, a fungus that devours salamander skin, arrived from Asia through the international amphibian trade.

Keep it for you. Therefore, the article continues (from the unequivocal title of Do not publish, not to publish), it is necessary to sacrifice part of the transparency required by scientific publications to avoid supplying the ill-intentioned with too many tools for their traffic, wondering from time to time whether that spreading detail can make the animal more vulnerable.

Already for a long time paleontologists and archaeologists have kept a certain reserve on the exact locations of their discoveries, to keep the treasures of the past away from grave robbers. The biologists will have to do the same.