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Enumerating Elephants and Itemizing Lions


In response to World Wildlife Fund, right now there are about 415,000 African elephants within the wild. Within the Eighties, an estimated 100,000 elephants had been killed every year, and as much as 80 % of herds had been misplaced in some areas. It’s of nice conservation significance to maintain observe of their numbers.

To determine whether or not an animal inhabitants is threatened and even on the brink of extinction, you should know, at the least roughly, what number of people are left and if these numbers are growing or reducing. In different phrases, you’ll be able to’t shield wildlife should you can’t monitor it.

Sadly, figuring out the variety of animals that stay in a sure habitat could be problematic. Present methods, akin to aerial counting, are costly, time-consuming and liable to human error. Wildlife tallies can get distorted in different methods, too: by modifications in local weather or climate, by difficult terrain or by variations in an animal’s grouping conduct, vary or timidity. Within the case of uncommon species residing in distant areas, scientists generally try to cobble collectively an image of the inhabitants utilizing a number of survey strategies, akin to automated wildlife cameras, DNA samples, tracks and different indicators.

And, wild animals can generally be somewhat uncooperative. Take African elephants, for instance. They inhabit altering and complex landscapes—they usually have a knack for overlaying themselves with mud.


It appears counterintuitive that lion populations have declined by 50 % since 1994, the 12 months that The Walt Disney Firm launched the very fashionable film The Lion King. The movie did focus conservation consideration on African lions, nevertheless it wasn’t lifelike relating to how a lion pleasure features.

An extra pitfall is that we will even get in our personal means, regardless of our greatest intentions. As an example, virtually half of all wild lions have disappeared from the African continent since 1994, which is, coincidentally, the identical 12 months that The Walt Disney Firm launched the film The Lion King. The movie gave wild lions immense publicity and conservation consideration, but their populations proceed to falter. It’s additionally not clear if individuals notice that the lion pleasure featured in The Lion King bears no resemblance to an actual lion pleasure, which might finally kick little Simba out—not crown him king.

Now, nonetheless, two new strategies for counting animals are exhibiting promise: machine studying and a novel approach known as Spatially Express Seize-Recapture (SECR).

Counting elephants from a excessive elevation

In a current paper that appeared within the science journal Distant Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, researchers report that they’ve harnessed machine studying to rely African elephants from area with spectacular accuracy.


Counting elephants is troublesome. Their pure habitats are distant, different and wild; they usually typically change the colour of their pores and skin by overlaying themselves with mud.

Utilizing a computing system known as Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN), they had been capable of routinely rely elephants from satellite tv for pc photos, a technique that’s extra dependable than aerial counts and far much less labor-intensive.

Previously, researchers used machine studying and satellite tv for pc photos to rely a small handful of threatened species, akin to albatrosses, seals and whales. However as a result of the ocean is all blue, counting there’s a lot much less difficult. Tabulating elephants is trickier.

To program the CNN to detect elephants, the researchers first needed to “practice” the system utilizing satellite tv for pc photos of elephants. They selected photos taken in Addo Elephant Nationwide Park in South Africa between 2014 and 2019 by WorldView‐3 and WorldView‐4—satellites that seize a number of the highest-resolution imagery commercially accessible. The researchers select photos from totally different seasons and years in a spread of habitats, from dense shrublands and forests to grasslands and barrens.


We are able to now rely elephants from area. Utilizing satellite tv for pc photos is proving to be extra dependable and far much less labor-intensive than the previous methodology of utilizing aerial counts.

The scientists then examined how precisely the CNN program may detect elephants within the park towards human volunteers screening the identical photos. The 2 detected elephants at related charges: the CNN appropriately recognized elephants 75 % of the time, whereas the human volunteers had been profitable 78 % of the time. The true variety of elephants was decided by two knowledgeable annotators. When the CNN’s detection was examined exterior of the park, the accuracy dropped to 57 %, which, the paper’s authors write, may very well be improved with a small quantity of coaching knowledge.

One massive problem for detecting animals utilizing this methodology going ahead is buying a big sufficient database to “practice” a CNN, however crowdsourced labeling platforms, akin to Zooniverse and Amazon Mechanical Turk, are promising instruments. The authors conclude that “utilizing high-resolution satellite tv for pc imagery as a wildlife surveying instrument will inevitably improve sooner or later as picture decision improves and prices fall.”

Finding lions from logging miles

In response to World Wildlife Fund, there are about 23,000 lions left within the wild. Different calculations estimate that between 20,000 and 30,000 people are scattered amongst 102 populations unfold throughout roughly 965,255 sq. miles of Africa. Traditionally, although, lions have disappeared from greater than 90 % of their vary.


Utilizing noticed tracks to rely wild lions in a specific space is just not dependable sufficient to know how the massive cats are faring over time.

Most of those evaluations are based mostly on audio-lure surveys (playbacks of recorded lion calls), knowledgeable solicitation and observe counts, that are merely not dependable sufficient to know how lion populations are doing over time. Now, an analytical methodology referred to as Spatially Express Seize-Recapture—which entails driving extensively and looking out actively for lions after which taking high-quality pictures to individually establish them and noting their places—is getting higher ends in counting massive cats and understanding their actions.

The strategy was first tried in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth Conservation Space, the place lions spend a whole lot of their time up in bushes and the place it’s comparatively simple to get good photos of them. On account of this distinctive tree-climbing conduct, managers and vacationers on the park regularly see lions. SECR experiments confirmed, nonetheless, that these lions are actually shifting extra and have bigger home-range sizes in comparison with the outcomes from a earlier research performed a few decade in the past. Since bigger home-range sizes in massive cats are often related to lowered density on account of poorer prey availability, this can be a regarding pattern.

SECR researchers conclude that there’s nice worth in utilizing strategies that preserve observe of lion populations straight, they usually urge conservation and analysis communities to stop utilizing advert hoc, oblique methods and shift to extra direct and dependable methods. For the reason that researchers revealed their research in 2020, SECR has been utilized within the Maasai Mara and adopted by the Kenya Wildlife Service to survey lions and different carnivores throughout territories.

Lions in bushes are simpler to identify—and to {photograph}. ©Malcolm Cerfonteyn, flickr

Ticking off new phrases of existence

The data gained from tallying wildlife is important for setting conservation targets and priorities. Counting and recording animals—which is the essence of wildlife monitoring—makes it attainable to evaluate a inhabitants’s standing and make selections on whether or not motion is required to guard or get better the species.

Certainly, information in regards to the lack of numbers of a specific species can elevate issues and infrequently mobilize particular conservation actions. Such was the case when the Nice Elephant Census spurred attendees on the 2016 Worldwide Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress to move a movement urging all nations to shut their home ivory markets.

So, if we will discover new methods to complete our wild neighbors in order that we calculate how you can safeguard them and stay alongside them, I imagine that’s a reckoning we desperately have to make.

Right here’s to discovering your true locations and pure habitats,




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