Every year poachers kill tens of thousands of elephants.
Despite China’s recent ban on ivory, which took effect December 31, 2017, elephant populations are still in danger from illegal hunting.
Forest elephants are especially vulnerable because the vast territory they cover and the thick foliage of the forest make them hard to track and protect.
To address this, the Elephant Listening Project of Cornell University is teaming up with Conservation Metrics, a technology startup in California, on a new approach: Listen for them with computers.
Much faster data
The Conservation Metrics team has developed a computer program that can separate the elephant sounds from the background noise, analyze the data and deliver results much faster than a human could.
Before this, it could take up to three months to retrieve sound cards and listen to and analyze the sounds captured on a single recording unit. Now, thanks to the startup’s artificial intelligence listening program, the job can be done in as few as 22 days. And the time it takes is only getting shorter.
“What the Elephant Listening Project is doing in terms of working with collaborators on these sites in Africa is really impressive, but the logistics are really hard,” Matthew McKown, CEO of Conservation Metrics, told the Daily Mail.
The collaboration will “speed things up, so we can show the people who manage the national park that we can provide information that will make a difference,” said Peter Wrege, director of the Elephant Listening Project.
Helping the elephants
The Elephant Listening Project isn’t just to collect scientific data. By tracking herds, the scientists can alert park rangers when the elephants are heading toward logging or farming areas, where the pachyderms risk a greater danger of harm.
Park rangers can also do a better job of tracking and arresting poachers if they know the vicinity where shots were recently fired.
The use of acoustics alone “isn’t going to stop the poaching,” said Wrege, but “it offers maybe the only way we can get information regularly enough. It’s daunting, but it’s worth it, and it can be done. We just have to keep at it.”