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How scientists are counting elephants from space?

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    Science & Technology
  • Published
    23rd Jan, 2021


  • Scientists are using very high-resolution satellite imagery to count and detect wildlife species, including African elephants.

What is this new counting method?

  • Satellite imagery: The Satellite imagery was used that required no ground presence to monitor the elephants.
  • High resolution method: Researchers used the highest resolution satellite imagery, called Worldview3.
  • Ambiguity: There is said to be one drawback of this method that it sometimes can not distinguish between the smaller animals.

What is the significance of this method of Counting?

  • Enhanced conservation efforts: African elephants have plummeted over the last century due to poaching, retaliatory killing from crop-raiding and habitat fragmentation. Therefore, in order to conserve the species, it is important for scientists to track elephant populations.
  • Reduced misallocation: The inaccurate counts can lead to misallocation of conservation resources which are already in a short amount.
  • Reduction in false population trends: Existing methods of study are already limited and have resulted in misunderstanding population trends.
  • Higher efficiency: The use of technology such as artificial intelligence enhances the detection capabilities by increasing accuracy.
  • Reduced cost of analysis: The conventional aerial surveys are costly and logistically challenging.

Some conventional methods of counting Elephant

  • Counting elephants from the air - sample counts
  • Stratification
  • Counting elephants from the air - total counts
  • Transect counts
  • Direct counts of elephants from the ground

Important Elephant conservation efforts

  • Protected animal under laws:The elephant has been accorded the highest possible protection under the Indian wildlife law through its listing under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 of India.
  • CITES:The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has listed the Asian Elephant in Appendix I which prohibits all commercial international trade of the species.
  • TRAFFIC: TRAFFIC is a strategic alliance of WWF and IUCN. It was established in 1976. In India, TRAFFIC carries out research and provides analysis, support and encouragement to efforts aimed at ensuring that wildlife trade is not a threat to conservation of nature in India.
  • MIKE: The Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme is an international collaboration that measures the levels, trends and causes of elephant mortality.
    • The MIKE Programme was established by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
    • It was adopted at the tenth Conference of the Parties in 1997.
    • There are currently 28 sites participating in the MIKE programme in Asia, distributed across 13 countries.
    • India has 10 sites, followed by two sites each in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand, and one site each in Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam.

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