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EleFact Friday: AI and Conservation

It seems that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a part of the current cultural moment. We are still learning what AI can do as a society – but what does it have to do with elephants? For this week’s EleFact, we’ll look at some new research that focuses on elephant conservation.

When it comes to the protection of elephants, we have to look at key issues like habitat destruction, elephant/human coexistence, and poaching of animals. Conservation efforts have generally depended on monitoring elephants using land and air surveys, camera traps, and even dung examination. These methods are imperfect due to the great amount of data they produce that is hard to study when reviewing manually. By using AI, algorithms can be created to manage the volume of data and look for patterns. They can also be used to identify the type of animal seen on observation cameras, with an accuracy level of around 90%. This is a more sophisticated form of data collection than traditional monitoring methods and has the potential to improve the accuracy and efficiency of elephant behavior studies.

In order for AI to advance as a tool for conservation management, it is essential for specialists to work closely with scientists studying elephant behavior. Human knowledge will have to drive the efforts, which will be enhanced by AI and its capabilities. Collaboration will allow for Artificial Intelligence to be honed to solve the unique problems faced by conservationists. For instance, AI can assist in identifying individual elephants that are being tracked from among a herd. It can potentially create small sensors or tracking devices that are no larger than a tick, which is a promising development and one that could result in easier methods of tracking than what is used today. 

There is a great deal of hype surrounding AI, which is certainly an imperfect tool. Expectations of AI output and its accuracy have to be balanced with the genuinely beneficial and practical applications in the field of conservation. AI works best in constrained and repeated situations, which can be hard to replicate in the wild. But machine learning and Artificial Intelligence are essentially sophisticated forms of statistical analysis that analyze complex data sets. The more information that is collected, the more AI will be able to amass large amounts of accurate data. The future of AI as a tool in conservation efforts will continue to expand as the ability to compile data improves with machine learning

For more information on the study, you can find the data here: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsif.2023.0367#d1e1399

Comments(3)

  1. REPLY
    Terry says

    I read this abstract. I’m not certain how AI would assist in stopping poaching? We can analyze elephant behavior and collect a ton of data to deter human animal conflict. AI can assist in locating elephants quicker in the trickiest locations. How could this data be applied for human poaching? I know there is so much to learn about AI’s implications. There are more questions than answers.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      My understanding is that tracking elephants can help to know where to focus on where poachers would be. But it’s true that there are more questions than answers.

  2. REPLY
    Terry says

    I agree Sara. I read one article where AI was so helpful poaching was reduced by 94% in a protected wildlife preserve where park rangers where available to intervene. Promising for sure!

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