Counting Elephants From Space With Satellite Imagery

23rd Aug 2022
Counting Elephants From Space With Satellite Imagery

EOLAS Insight, a Glasgow-based space tech firm, is now in the elephant counting business. The company will be the first from the UK to utilise high-resolution satellite imagery and artificial intelligence (AI) to carry out a census of elephants that roam expansive areas across Mozambique. 

Funded by the European Space Agency, the elephant census utilises light aircraft and satellites. These methods are just like those used to monitor wild red deer in Scotland. This know-how will make it a more cost-effective and greener alternative in comparison to helicopter-based counts. 

The Scottish deer project used the satellite imagery collected as the raw data for AI algorithms to scour in order to find the wild red deer. So, this newer project, which is focused on elephants, represents a natural progression in making wildlife tracking a lot more affordable and greener. 

Addressing conservation and the climate crisis 

EOLAS is working alongside Peace Parks Foundation, which is a South-African conservation organisation, as well as Omanos Analytics, which is an intelligence firm situated in Glasgow. Their aim is to not only classify the habitats of the elephants but to identify poaching and wildfire risks.

The managing director of EOLAS, Doug McNeil, said the following:

“Technology can play a key role in tackling what is arguably the biggest challenge facing humankind – conservation and the climate crisis.”

He added that with the help of CivTech, which is a Scottish Government Accelerator programme, the company was able to refine the process. They worked alongside NatureScot, Scotland’s nature agency, to track the animals. In doing so, they simplified some of the technical aspects behind the count as well as made the underlying algorithms available to users. In that sense, the count itself was the primary, but not only, goal of the project.

Satellite imagery where IT and the environment meet

Speaking about the future, Doug McNeil, said the following:

“In the future through work with the Geovation programme run by Registers of Scotland and Ordnance Survey, we will create a web-based platform for allowing the user direct access to our methodology algorithms.”

He further added that there are a lot of extremely powerful new technologies available for ecologists and environmental professionals, yet it is a job in itself to access these technologies. 

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