AI Devices Will be Important New Tools to Combat Elephant Poaching
The non-profit organization "Resolve" announced yesterday that it has developed a new AI camara device called TrailGuard AI, which uses "Intel" vision chips to identify elephant poachers in African [and eventually Asian] wildlife parks. The cameras will be placed on access trails used by poachers and automatically alert park rangers when it senses suspicious activity. Its a potential game-changer for conservationists because most wildlife parks in the developing world are underfunded and have limited resources to combat poaching.
The Verge: "In Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, for example, there are just 150 rangers responsible for safeguarding an area of land roughly the size of Belgium."
And rangers have been losing the battle against poachers for years because of ivory's high price on the black market. Much of the poached ivory ends up in China where it is carved into ornaments and jewelry.
The Verge: "Resolve notes that despite current conservation efforts, an African elephant is killed roughly every 15 minutes. At this rate, the surviving population of 100,000 animals (down from a peak of some 2 million) will be destroyed over the next few decades. Resolve's hope is that artificial intelligence will help fight against this trend by offering a pair of digital eyes."
TrailGuard was recently field tested at the Grumeti Reserve in Tanzania and led to the arrests of 30 poachers. Now Resolve is working with the National Geographic Society and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation to get TrailGuard AI into 100 wildlife parks in Africa over the next several years.
TrailGuard AI is not the only AI device being developed to combat poaching. Researchers at the University of Southern California are developing AI technology to help park rangers anticipate where poachers will strike next.
Save the Elephants: "The Teamcore lab at USC's Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society is working on an AI-driven application called PAWS, short for Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security, which aims to equip wildlife defenders with optimized patrol routes."
"PAWS consists of both a predictive and prescriptive component. A machine learning algorithm uses information from past poaching events and publicly-accessible topographical data to make risk calculations about where future poaching attacks may occur. A game theory framework, utilizing a branch of mathematics focused on the interaction between two or more participants, generates a sequence of GPS locations for the rangers to patrol."
"A preliminary field test in Uganda in April 2014 demonstrated that the software was effective in identifying infrequently patrolled areas with active poachers. By following the patrol routes that PAWS suggested, rangers found a poached elephant with its tusks cut off. Even though they arrived too late to save the elephant, the rangers were able to find and collect other snares."
Time is running out for elephants and new strategies are sorely needed. If you have an interest in donating to an NGO working to protect elephants, here is a list of organizations involved in their conservation.