Vulnerable elephant populations are now being tracked from space using Earth-observation satellites and a type of artificial intelligence (AI) called machine learning. As part of an international project, researchers are using satellite images processed with computer algorithms, which are trained with more than 1,000 images of elephants to help spot the creatures. With machine learning, the algorithms can count elephants even on'complex geographical landscapes', such as those dotted with trees and shrubs. Researchers say this method is a promising new tool for surveying endangered wildlife and can detect animals with the same accuracy as humans. Elephants in woodland as seen from space.
If 2016 was a rough year for the animal kingdom, 2017 could be worse. Most scientists agree that we are experiencing a sixth mass extinction, but unlike the previous five that extended over hundreds of millions of years and occurred because of cataclysmic natural disasters, humans are responsible for this one. Climate change, agricultural expansion, wildlife crime, pollution, and disease have created a shocking acceleration in the disappearance of species. The World Wildlife Fund recently predicted that more than two-thirds of the vertebrate population--mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles--would be lost over the next three years if extinctions continue at the current rate. A 2015 study that appeared in the journal Science Advances suggests that the rate of vertebrate extinction has increased nearly 100 times.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, a sixth mass extinction is underway. Animal species are disappearing at 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate. We recently reported on scientists using artificial intelligence to analyze photos to help track at-risk species such as giraffes and whale sharks. Now AI is being used to analyze sound to help protect forest elephants in central Africa. Mainly due to poachers and habitat destruction, the number of forest elephants went from an estimated 100,000 in 2011 to fewer than 40,000 today.
A simple device, just a heat and movement sensor attached to digital camera, has revolutionised the way that conservationists learn about animals in the wild. Camera traps are a very simple solution to the task of working out when, where and how wildlife interacts with its environment. Monitoring populations without damaging habitats, these relatively simple devices have provided some astonishing finds including revealing species previously hidden in the untouched depths of the forest. Elusive new creatures aren't their only speciality, however, as in 2015, similar devices helped reveal that the critically endangered Javan rhinoceros was breeding and significantly adding to its tiny population. After identifying a likely area for a sighting, usually with the help of local guides, traps are placed at animal height on trees and posts and left to wait until wildlife walks by.
As the nations of Earth attempt to invent and implement solutions to the growing threat of climate change, just about every option is on the table. Investing in renewable sources of energy and dropping emissions around the globe are the dominant strategies, but utilizing artificial intelligence can help reduce the damage done by climate change. As reported by Live Mint, artificial intelligence algorithms can help conservationists limit deforestation, protect vulnerable species of animals from climate change, fight poaching, and monitor air pollution. The data science company Gramener has employed machine learning to help get estimates of the number of penguin colonies across Antarctica by analyzing images taken by camera traps. The size of penguin colonies in Antarctica has decreased dramatically over the course of the past decade, impacted by climate change.