Artificial Intelligence Is New Weapon Against Australian Wildlife Smugglers

Australian scientists are harnessing the power of Artificial Intelligence in the fight against wildlife trafficking.  

The technique uses 3-Dimensional X-rays at airports and post offices to detect animals being smuggled in luggage or the mail, and algorithms then alert customs officers.  

This technology uses artificial intelligence to identify the shapes of animals being trafficked.

Australia has a rich diversity of flora and fauna, which has fueled an illegal trade in wildlife.

The number of live animals seized by the Australian Border Force has tripled since 2017, according to official data.   Australian reptiles and birds are highly prized overseas.  

Exotic species, including snakes and turtles, are also brought into the country potentially bringing pests and diseases that could threaten farming industries and fragile native ecosystems.

“We are teaching computers to look for trafficked wildlife in both mail and traveler luggage pathways, said Vanessa Pirotta, a wildlife scientist at Macquarie University in Sydney. “The way in which we do that is we scan animals – dead animals in this case – and what we do is we scan that using 3D X-rays and then we produce a reference library.  So, lots of images with the animals presented in different ways so the computer can go, oh, okay, I have seen this animal before.  Oh, it looks slightly different, but I think that is a lizard.”

Australia is aiming to protect its biodiversity with a new plan announced Tuesday that aims to prevent future extinctions, updating an existing environmental policy. 

Among other things, the plan includes adding fifteen animals and plants to the endangered species list due in part to the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20 and land clearing. The government intends to curb the impact of feral species, such as foxes and cats, that inflict untold damage on native wildlife, along with invasive weeds. The strategy also includes reserving almost a third of Australia for conservation to improve biodiversity. Dozens of countries, including France and Britain, have already set similar targets.

Australia is “the mammal-extinction capital of the world,” according to Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek, who says previous strategies to protect biodiversity have failed.

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