AI Technology Helps Protect National Park Wildlife from Illegal Poaching

An anti-poaching camera system developed in partnership with RESOLVE, Intel, and a conservationist is helping to protect wildlife in national parks around the world by proactively identifying criminals and transmitting information to park rangers in time to stop poachers from killing.


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Poaching is a global problem, but is particularly acute in Africa and Asia. Recent statistics surrounding poaching are horrifying. According to World Bank, wildlife crime has become the fourth most lucrative illegal business after narcotics, human trafficking, and weapons. World Bank research found that 33,000 elephants are killed every year for their ivory. In 2017 alone, 1,028 rhinos were poached in South Africa. African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) statistics show that poachers kill thousands of endangered animals every day. Poaching plays a significant role in mass species extinction. According to AWF, today, only 1,000 mountain gorillas and only 2,800 Grevy’s zebras are left in Africa.

But as devastating as the animal deaths are, the impact on the ecosystem is even more dire. Wildlife in protected areas ensures that an ecosystem can function and maintain. The possible economic losses due to illegal logging, fishing, and wildlife trade are estimated at $1 trillion to $2 trillion per year. But as long as trade in wild animals and their body parts remains lucrative, poaching will continue.

Local governments are partnering with conservation organizations to combat poaching, and technology is playing a significant role in their efforts. For instance, AWF is partnering with the Ugandan government and digital intelligence firm Cellibrite to train and certify wildlife law enforcement officers from Uganda Wildlife Authority. Officers are learning how to better support mobile forensic units that investigate illegal wildlife trade. 


Anti-Poaching Cameras

Intel is also helping fight the war on poaching. RESOLVE, a Washington, DC-based non-profit, consulted with conservation technologist Steve Gulick and Intel to develop TrailGuard™ AI, an anti-poaching camera-based alert system designed to stop poachers before they kill. The technology is used as a security system for national parks to help detect, stop, and arrest poachers. TrailGuard AI also helps improve intelligence on poaching and related illicit networks, helping authorities crack down on illegal wildlife trade.

The cameras are small and easily concealed along trails. TrailGuard AI can detect humans in the images and relays the photos that contain humans to park headquarters via Global System for Mobiles (GSM), long-range radio, or satellite networks. The technology was field-tested in a reserve in East Africa, where it helped to arrest 30 poachers and seize 1300 pounds of bushmeat.

Black and white images showing poachers and elephants

Image credit: RESOLVE

The TrailGuard AI camera uses tiny Intel® Movidius® Vision Processing Units (VPUs) for image processing, running deep neural network algorithms for object detection and image classification inside the camera. If the camera detects humans among the motion-activated images, the camera triggers electronic alerts to park personnel so they can mobilize rangers.

TrailGuard AI is one of several conservation tools RESOLVE is developing through WildTech@RESOLVE, an enterprise committed to developing durable, high-tech devices to help monitor and protect wildlife. Additional technologies include ForestGuard™ AI, which detects logging trucks and protects against illegal logging in protected forests. Another technology, WildEyes™ AI detects target wildlife species to help prevent conflict between wildlife and humans while enhancing wildlife monitoring. WildEyes AI works similarly to TrailGuard AI, but recognizes and transmits images of both wildlife and humans.

Learn more about how technology is helping to combat poaching and protect wild animals:

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