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On World Wildlife Day, we discuss the use of AI and camera traps in stopping poaching

Today, the 3rd of March, is the internationally recognised World Wildlife Day. It is a day earmarked for the celebration of, and renewal of our commitment to, wildlife. The reason we celebrate wildlife on the 3rd of March is because it is the anniversary of the beginning of CITES.

CITES, or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, is an international accord between member states. It binds them by a communal decision to reduce the harms of trading in wildlife and their parts.

The celebration of World Wildlife Day is taken as an opportunity to attract the attention of stakeholders. It is used to boost the profile of underappreciated threats or benefits of wildlife. It is used to boost new initiatives and bolster those that are still essential if we are to keep the natural order of the world functioning healthily.

World Wildlife day as celebrated in Kenya

This year, in Kenya, the celebration of this day will be conducted in Amboseli National Park. The choice of this location is aptly made. Amboseli, like the Tsavo Conservation Area and, indeed, much of eastern and northern Kenya, has been heavily hit by drought conditions these past years.

Those that have passed through this parched landscape the last few years have, unfortunately, been made witness to the very devastating effects of this lack of rain. For much of the last two years, Tsavo and Amboseli have been reduced to dusty, inhospitable homes to the flora and fauna that exist there.

Plant life, as resilient as it is in this part of the world, will likely recover. The sight of the many animal carcasses strewn across this landscape acts as a much more visceral, and painful sight.

In the nine months preceding December of 2022, 205 elephant, 512 wildebeest, 51 buffalo and 49 of the critically endangered Grevy’s Zebra were found dead in Kenya, their deaths all attributed, at least in part, to the dry weather.

Those that saw these effects spoke of harrowingly reduced carcasses dotted about an unyielding habitat.

It is expected that today’s celebration of wildlife will draw attention to the effects of this drought. It is likely to bring our focus to the importance of mitigating against the influence of a warmer climate.

This World Wildlife Day will launch a year’s worth of focus on Partnerships for Wildlife Conservation. In Amboseli, where certain animals only lived through the drought because of human help, the importance of this theme as a pillar of global conservation efforts cannot be overstated.

An elephant naming ceremony, something that has become a theme of previous World Wildlife Days, will also happen. So too will an organised tree-planting drive.

The use of AI in giving rangers real-time data on poaching

Here at the Tsavo Trust, where we employ aerial and ground teams in daily surveys of parts of the Tsavo Conservation Area, we know the difficulty of catching poachers in the act. All too often what we find of illegal hunts in the protected areas are not active camps or stealthily stalking hunters. Instead, we find the marks of their passage: the carcasses and campfires they have left behind.

And, here in Tsavo, we have the benefit of the land being quite flat and only sparsely covered with forested areas. In parts of the world such as the Congo rainforests, rangers are not so effectively supported by aerial teams and their ground work is slow and laboriously carried out.

In these areas camera traps are frequently used. Previously, however, this tool was only as effective as the trips to collect the data it had collected could make it. Images of poachers in the act or wildlife moving were often months old by the time rangers could collect the data.

However, AI is now being used, in conjunction with solar charging capacity and the connection of a small computer to the camera, to beam images in real-time to those that can act on them.

The mini-computer attached to the camera traps now immediately assess what it has captured and, if its wildlife in need of rescue or monitoring or a human being up to no good, the image is sent to rangers along with an indication as to where the image was taken.

This is giving rangers the ability to act when that action can have real consequence.

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