Robots Saving Rhinos and the African Elephant

Robots Saving Rhinos and the African Elephant

Written by Jake Rogers

Artificial Intelligence continues to be a very controversial issue fueling a multitude of ethical questions on surveillance, data security, the potential loss of human jobs, and, in the most extreme, the fear of “the rise of the robots”. Could this same technology that is alarming to some also be used to benefit wildlife conservation?

Recent reports project that if the current rising trend of illegal animal poaching continues, wild African elephants and rhinoceroses will be extinct within the next ten years. Hunted for their coveted and extremely valuable ivory and rhino horn, these two particular species are at the top of the poaching list that fuels an estimated $23 billion dollar annual black-market industry. The extinction of these two species would be an environmental tragedy that would devastate the ecology of this region. Fortunately, new technologies are being field-tested and show promise as a key part of the solution. 

The University of Southern California’s Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society has come up with a new approach to combat the poaching epidemic by using the latest in AI technology and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s). The USC, in collaboration with the National Science Foundation and the Army Research Office, are launching drones over large areas of known elephant and rhinoceros habitats to simultaneously record and track locations of the endangered animals and their potential poachers. 


Collected data is processed by the AI program known as Protective Assistant for Wildlife Security or (PAWS). The program uses machine learning techniques and predictive analytics to show behavioral and locational patterns as a way of anticipating which areas are most likely for poachers to strike. By predicting these movements, parks with limited staff are able to utilize the information and place rangers at strategic locations to effectively stop illegal killings by poachers. The technology can also be used to document animal population size, migratory patterns, seasonal food source availability, track the effects of climate change on habitat, and predict future challenges to the species, both human and environmental. 

The positive outcomes from the use of these new “high tech” methods show that artificial intelligence and robotic technology can and will be a vital tool in a conservationist’s toolbox moving forward in the fight against poachers.


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