Surveying elephants using satellite; a revolution in animal counting 


In a revolutionary step, satellite cameras coupled with computer algorithms helped in counting elephants in the complex geographical landscapes.

The new method of using satellite images along with algorithms is a promising tool for counting endangered wildlife. Dr Olga Isupova, a computer scientist at the University of Bath, developed the algorithm. The scientists involved were from the University of Oxford, UK and University of Twente, Netherlands.

For this survey, the satellite Worldview 3 used high-resolution imagery to trace African elephants.

Dr Isupova mentioned that new technique of using satellite imagery and algorithm whelps in surveying vast stretches of land in a matter of minutes. The researcher said that the satellite could capture imagery over 5,000 square km every few minutes, which helps in avoiding double counting.

Dr Isupova pointed out that accurate monitoring helps in saving the species. Moreover, the researcher noted that the the satellite-based survey do not disturb the animals. Humans are also not hurt in the process. The satellite imagery also helps in tracing animals that crosses from one country to another.

The researchers pointed out that they could detect the animals with the same accuracy, as humans.

This is not the first time that satellite imagery and algorithms are used to monitor species. However, this is the first time that satellite imagery is used to reliably monitor animals moving through a heterogeneous landscape (open grassland, partial coverage and woodland). Dr Isupova pointed out earlier whales were  surveyed using this system. Counting in the ocean was less challenging. However, counting in a heterogeneous landscape involved much risk, the scientists said.

The researchers chose African elephants for the study, as they are the largest animal on land animal and quite easier to spot. Dr Isupova hoped that satellite imagery could help in counting smaller species with satellite imagery revolutionised over time.


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