Endangered species are in constant threat of extinction due to shrinking habitats, disease, climate change, and poachers

While it's disheartening to see numbers of everything from rhinos to bees start to get smaller on this planet, that doesn't mean there's no hope to help save them. 

Thanks to a number of high-tech--and highly creative--solutions from startups and other organizations, scientists are better equipped to monitor populations of animals, document their behaviors, access living situations and determine threats.

The photo-sharing social media company Instagram helps spread awareness about rare animals by sending users a warning screen when certain hashtags such as #SlothSelfie and #ExoticAnimalForSale are used. 

Since 2017, Instagram has worked closely with the World Wildlife Fund, TRAFFIC, and World Animal Protection to create alerts when a person searches for a hashtag associated with harmful behavior to animals, they will see a content advisory screen. Animal abuse and the sale of endangered animals or their parts are not allowed on Instagram.

The nonprofit group Wild Me has developed a kind of Facebook for animals called Wildbook. The open source software uses photos submitted by researchers, students and tourists--as well as images scraped from Flickr and YouTube--to form a database of animals. 

Users who upload the images can also add information like where the animal was spotted, its sex, size, and age. This information better helps conservationists track creatures and to better understand threats to their populations. 

To help put a stop to poaching rare animals, drones are being used to scare off hunters. With funding from the World Wildlife Fund as well as a $5 million dollar grant from Google in 2017, a non-profit activist group called African Parks uses BatHawk drones to identify, track and stop poachers from hunting rhinos and other protected big game. 

The BatHawk drones are equipped with cameras, video transmitters and long-use batteries so teams can fly at night for long stretches of time, as they search for poachers. 

Drones cans also help save the whales. Ocean Alliance and Olin College of Engineering created custom drones called SnotBots that collect "blow" or snot exhaled from the whale's lungs by hovering over them without bothering them in the process, then return the samples to researchers at another location. The samples taken from whales contain viruses, bacteria, DNA and environmental toxins which are crucial in marine research and conservation.

Drones are also being used to deliver vaccinations to endangered black-footed ferret populations in the US. 

Artificial intelligence also has a role to play in protecting animals. Google's TensorFlow neural network software is being used to quickly identify endangered sea cows in thousands of aerial photos taken by research drones. 

Google's facial recognition A.I. not only helps identify endangered species in the wild, but also their poachers. The advanced A.I. software can also be used to send immediate alerts and warnings to park rangers if a human face is identified by various camera traps set around restricted wildlife preserves.

Published on: Jun 29, 2018
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