Botswana: artificial intelligence to mitigate human-elephant conflict

The Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Sanctuary, when it was established, aimed to protect wildlife, especially elephants, from poaching. This has completely succeeded, as it now has 250,000 elephants, which is more than half of the total population of these pachyderms on the continent, which, according to WWF, is 415,000 individuals. At the same time, conflicts between humans and elephants became more frequent. The restoration of migration corridors could at least partially solve this problem. To do this, AI-assisted aerial photography will be carried out to determine the number of elephants, animal corridors and human settlements around protected areas in Member States.

The Kavango Zambezi Transboundary Nature Reserve (KAZA), located in southern Africa, was opened in March 2012. Its area is 520,000 km2, it crosses the borders of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Located in the Okavango and Zambezi river basins, it has more than a dozen national parks, many other nature reserves and the famous Victoria Falls.

Unfortunately, the number of conflicts between humans and elephants is increasing. Less than a quarter of the area of ​​the ZAKA zone is home to more than 2 million people. In order to survive, villagers invade forest areas to plant their crops, elephants, which are becoming more and more, for their part, devastate crops, even dwellings, and even go so far as to attack people. Climate change and drought exacerbate these conflicts.

Creation or restoration of migration corridors

African elephants usually migrate during the dry season in June in search of food. The migratory routes they used to follow are now hampered by obstacles: barriers, bridges, roads… To stop elephant overpopulation, especially in Botswana’s Chobe National Park, the solution would be to relocate the elephants to the Kafue National Parks. in Zambia and Luiana in Angola, where there are far fewer of them.

This is also the reason why the governments of Botswana and Angola launched an initiative in 2020 to create passes to allow elephants to move from northern Botswana to southern Angola.

Detect elephant numbers, animal corridors, and settlements around Kaza Zone reserves with AI.

The Kavango-Zambezi Transboundary Nature Reserve will spend more than $3 million on the study, which will be conducted using artificial intelligence cameras mounted under aircraft. A one-week training workshop was held in Kasane, Botswana to train and select observers to participate.

Experts from the five KAZA member countries are planning the best strategies and methods for conducting aerial photography.

Howard Frederick, ecologist, says:

“We hope to be able to use new technologies to replace the human eye and obtain the same data, this will allow us to be more consistent and reduce the training time required to conduct surveys. So we take advantage of the fact that some of these cameras have high enough resolution so that we can see not only elephants, but warthog-sized animals as well. »

He adds:

“So we can use images for counting in the same way we used to, but now we can view photos at a larger scale and potentially collect even more data. »

WWF Conservation Advisor Russell Taylor concludes:

“A study that will be the first major landscape survey ever undertaken in this part of the world. will provide, first of all, a more reliable estimate of the number of elephants we have, but also, and above all, their location; This distribution model will allow us to see where they are in relation to human settlement patterns and where there may be opportunities to create corridors for elephants to move around and thus try to mitigate conflicts with humans as much as possible. »

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