Drone tech and elephant conservation in Kenya

An American species preservation company has partnered with a wildlife conservation organisation to use drone technology to track elephants in Kenya.

Texas-based Colossal Biosciences, which describes itself as a de-extinction and species preservation company, has announced that it will be working with Save the Elephants to use drone technology and machine learning to help track elephants in the east African country.

Colossal creates disruptive technologies for the restoration of extinct species, protection of critically endangered species protection and the repopulation of critical ecosystems that support the continuation of life on Earth.

Save the Elephants meanwhile, is a non-profit organisation whose raison d’etre is to secure the future of elephants and save them from extinction.

And the latest way they have chosen to do that is to deploy drone technology, which data the drones gather will be used for both conservation and research purposes.

The elephant, a keystone wildlife species that is a prime contributor to maintaining the vitality and biodiversity of their ecosystems, has seen its numbers sharply decline in recent years because of wildlife crime, poaching, and conflicts.

Poaching alone claimed more than 100,000 African elephants between 2010-2012, while elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV), a virus Colossal is committed to eradicating, has been responsible for about half of all deaths of young elephants in human care.

“Elephants are in dire need of additional conservation technologies to protect them,” Colossal co-founder and CEO Ben Lamm said in a statement.

“Given Colossal’s commitment to the preservation, protection and conservation of animals and ecosystems, we are excited for the opportunity to create a new technology.

“With this project, we will begin to understand elephant decision-making and build models to better understand behaviour. This will ultimately lead to more effective habitat conservation and create a more effective, passive elephant tracking system that will not be dependent on human observation in the field, or elephant immobilizations and collaring.”

In the partnership, Save the Elephants will deploy a small fleet of drones equipped with high-resolution and infrared cameras to capture elephant behavioural data.

As Colossal further explains, the data gathered will then be processed by company’s machine learning core to develop algorithms that will label elephants and automatically identify individual and collective social behaviour. Colossal, which has operations in Dallas, said that the AI models it developed will detect, track, and map the location of elephants in their natural habitat.

“The technological sophistication of modern drones, combined with appropriate analysis including the use of machine learning and AI expertise, will reveal many novel insights into elephant behaviour and ecology,” Fritz Vollrath of Save the Elephants said in a statement.

“And the better we understand elephants, the more we can help to secure a future for these iconic giants.”

Colossal added that pose estimation and behaviour analysis techniques will then analyse the signals, decision making, and social dynamics of elephant herds.

Ultimately, these tools will be used to help researchers at Save the Elephants understand and organise the vast amounts of video data collected, standardise behaviour detection, allow for the individual behaviour observation of an entire herd over long time frames, and uncover nuanced behaviours that may go unnoticed by human observers.

“This initiative has put Colossal one step closer to revolutionising the protection and preservation of all elephant species,” said Matt James, Colossal’s chief animal officer. “By identifying innovative approaches to conserve these endangered species, we’ve been able to understand their behaviour in the wild better than ever before.”

Research data derived from the drone project will help develop an understanding of elephant decision-making and behaviour using AI models. It also will provide Colossal with key data to use in for the eventual rewilding of the woolly mammoth, the company said.

Colossal’s team spearheading this project includes James and Leandra Brickson, manager of computational sciences, who is leading the team applying artificial intelligence techniques to analyse the drone footage collected during the study.


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