New AI tech is protecting African elephants

African elephants are beautiful and majestic creatures that are unfortunately targeted by poachers because of their ivory tusks. In the last 50 years, the savanna elephant population dropped by 60 percent and the number of forest elephants has fallen by 86 percent in the past three decades.

Poaching is one of the biggest threats to African elephants and, along with land degradation, is the main contributor to the decline of African elephant populations.

Even though a ban on ivory trading brought poaching numbers down in 1989, they rose again after 2007 when African countries allowed the auction of stockpiles of seized tusks, giving traffickers a loophole to pass their ivory off as legal.

Fortunately, Dr. Olga Isupova, a computer scientist at the University of Bath, has created an algorithm that may be able to help save African elephants from extinction. The algorithm uses a satellite to scan large areas of land in short periods of time to collect 5,000 km2 worth of photos, which is perfect for the animals’ grassland and forest habitats.

In combination with high-resolution imagery, this newly developed AI technology presents less of a risk of double counting, doesn’t endanger humans in the data collection process, and is less disruptive to animals in their natural habitats.

Dr. Isupova says that “monitoring of animals is one piece of a puzzle in conservation including anti-poaching activities.” According to her, the technology should be used to supplement other methods to stop poaching completely and insists that it is still important to fund conservationists on the ground.

For future development, Dr. Isupova hopes to create systems that will detect carcasses, exposing illegal poaching activities. She also indicated that efforts are being made to develop AI that can observe smaller animals like cattle and giraffes with the same accuracy.

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