Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Tech comes to the defense of dwindling elephant and rhino populations

Today I wanted to share an amazing Indiegogo campaign that has the potential to end much of the illegal poaching of elephant and rhino populations in Africa. Air Shepherd Drones is proposing a system of predictive analysis to estimate where animals and poaches will likely be, drone fliers with mobile command vans that will locate possible poachers by air, and teams of ranger crews that will arrive on the scene ideally before any poaching takes place. The plan also includes post-operation data that will be beamed to the command vans and integrated into the code, helping to strengthen the analysis over time.
Population map from the Air Shepherd campaign

The computer models will be designed and maintained by the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, who will then be offering their open-source software to other vetted universities who can run the model and support other anti-poaching efforts.

I think this is a fantastic blend of science, technology, and animal welfare. Not only could this type of effort help to end poaching, but it could also provide the video to bring awareness to who these poachers are and what devastation they bring to a declining species. Video is the only media format that gets attention these days. Print is almost dead (including long-form blogs like this one, sadly), photos can go viral but also easily dismissed as "photoshopped", but video has truth to it and also great emotional impact.

Elephants are one of the most interesting lifeforms on the planet, to me. They are emotional. They have complex social rituals after death, including what humans would consider a mourning period and funeral. They are highly sensitive and even vengeful creatures. Elephants are our kin, in so many ways. It is deplorable that they have been brought to the verge of decline, and it's so heartening to know that many countries are asking for help to stop the poachers and save these species.

Of course I donated. Who can resist geeks using supercomputers to save the world? There are just four days left for Air Shepherd to reach their funding goal. Click here to donate or check out more about their campaign.

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