Scientists have been able to identify Elephants from space for the first time - technology that could be used to empower efforts to challenge wildlife poaching.
Researchers used commercial earth observation satellites Worldview 3 and 4 to capture high resolution images of African elephants moving through grasslands and forests.
And combined with computer deep learning, an automated system was able to pick out animals with the same level of accuracy as a human would.
The measure could be vital in the battle against poachers who profit over the destruction of the planet’s biodiversity - a cause The Independent has championed as part of its Stop The Illegal Wildlife Trade campaign.
The project, developed by researchers at Oxford University and the University of Bath, could allow vast landmasses to be scanned and assessed in a matter of minutes - outpacing human observers who would typically carry out such work from low-flying planes.
Poaching as well as damage to habitats has caused the population of African elephants to nosedive in the past century, with roughly 415,000 savannah elephants believed to still be left in the wild.
“Accurate monitoring is essential if we’re to save the species,” said Dr Olga Isupova, who worked on the project. “We need to know where the animals are and how many there are.”
Satellite monitoring also ensures that habitats will not be disturbed by vehicles used to track animals, while making it possible to observe animal groups as they cross borders that may limit the movements of their human observers.
“This type of work has been done before with whales, but of course the ocean is all blue, so counting is a lot less challenging,” said Dr Isupova. “As you can imagine, a heterogeneous landscape makes it much hard to identify animals.”
The Independent’s Stop The Illegal Wildlife Trade campaign is working with anti-poaching NGO Freeland and African wildlife charity Space for Giants to tackle the conservation crisis exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Raising more than £300,000 for the cause in the past nine months, the campaign has also brought together leading conservation organisations to issue a joint statement at the G20 in Riyadh last December.
It told the world leaders they have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to capitalise on public demand to invest in nature to protect people and the planet.
The group told the G20 leaders in a statement: “Covid-19 has been a wake-up call to everyone on this planet. Now is the time to value and invest in nature by developing sustainable nature-based economic stimulus packages that embrace a One Health approach and address long-term planetary health, food security, poverty alleviation, climate change, and biodiversity loss and work towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Among the other organisations that signed the declaration were the World Wildlife Fund, the Zoological Society of London, the African Wildlife Foundation, the Paradise Foundation, Conservation International, Fauna & Flora International and the Jane Goodall Institute.
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