Satellite images to help preserve elephants

Environmental activists have begun using satellite images to count elephants from space, a technique British experts hope will help protect these threatened mammals in Africa.

Researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Bath explained that the use of algorithms, machine learning and satellite technology may replace the current technologies used to count elephants.

"The number of African elephants has decreased over the past century due to illegal hunting and revenge killing for their elimination of agricultural crops and the decline of their natural habitats," Oxford said in a statement.

"Preserving them requires knowing where and how many they are: close monitoring is vital."

Currently, the most common method for surveying populations of elephants in savannah environments is air census with manned aircraft.

The academics noted that the participants in these scans can feel tired and sometimes impaired by poor vision.

And they continued, "Satellite monitoring is an invisible technology that does not require a presence on the ground, and thus eliminates the possibility of disturbing animals and worrying about human safety during data collection."

"The process, which used to take months, could be completed within hours," they added.

And scientists used the technology for the first time in "Addo Elephant" National Park in South Africa.

The images, captured within minutes by a satellite orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 600 km, can scan up to 5,000 square kilometers of Earth in a single path.

Scientists have adapted algorithms to identify only adult elephants from among a data set of 1,000 in the park, but they discovered that they are also able to identify young elephants.

They hope to adopt these conservation techniques urgently to protect the world's biodiversity.


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