Catching poachers was almost impossible until this Dutch company invented a new type of camera

Hack the Planet have modified camera traps to provide real time information to rangers
Hack the Planet have modified camera traps to provide real time information to rangers Copyright AFP
By Hannah Brown with AFP
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Without AI, stopping poachers in large national parks is ‘like finding a needle in a haystack’.

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Poachers are the long-standing enemy of wildlife conservation.

In national parks across Africa it can be almost impossible to catch poachers red-handed. While many areas have camera traps which record movement in the park, conservationists can usually only watch the footage every 6 months when they go to change the battery. It is, of course, little use know a poacher was in the area so long ago.

That’s where Dutch tech company Hack the Planet comes in.

How do AI-powered camera traps work?

"So we developed a smart camera system that can, in real time, track down people or animals in huge remote areas,” explains Hack the Planet’s engineer, Thijs Suijten.

Solar panels are attached to the camera trap to power it.

It’s then hooked up to a computer which downloads and analyses the images. The best part is that all of this happens in real time so poachers can be caught in the act.

“This minicomputer uses artificial intelligence to automatically classify whether there's an animal, an elephant or human in the photo. And then we use the satellite modem to send that information through space directly to the phones of rangers within minutes."

Hack the Planet have also developed a mobile phone sensor system to help alert rangers to the presence of potential poachers.

“If we can detect cell phones in parks then rangers can in real-time see where suspicious activity might be happening in their park, and [can] act upon it,” he adds.

Can AI camera traps help protect people too?

A smart camera system was fitted in Lope national park in Gabon in 2021. It is helping to prevent poaching as well as keeping humans safe from the animals.

Elephants straying onto farmland and destroying crops, and therefore livelihoods, had become a big problem.

Now, thanks to eight cameras, rangers and locals will get an early warning when an elephant is headed their way.

"We have also created a system to automatically scare away elephants, so we use a big horn speaker and when our cameras detect an elephant, the alarm goes off and then we hope that elephants will automatically be chased away from the village,” Thijs explains.

Watch the video above to learn more about these AI cameras.

Video editor • Hannah Brown

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