Author Archives: Tanya Birch

Using AI to find where the wild things are

According to the World Wildlife Fund, vertebrate populations have shrunk an average of 60 percent since the 1970s. And a recent UN global assessment found that we’re at risk of losing one million species to extinction, many of which may become extinct within the next decade. 

To better protect wildlife, seven organizations, led by Conservation International, and Google have mapped more than 4.5 million animals in the wild using photos taken from motion-activated cameras known as camera traps. The photos are all part of Wildlife Insights, an AI-enabled, Google Cloud-based platform that streamlines conservation monitoring by speeding up camera trap photo analysis.

With photos and aggregated data available for the world to see, people can change the way protected areas are managed, empower local communities in conservation, and bring the best data closer to conservationists and decision makers.

Wildlife managers at Instituto Humboldt take advantage of a new AI-enabled tool for processing wildlife data.

Wildlife managers at Instituto Humboldt take advantage of a new AI-enabled tool for processing wildlife data

Ferreting out insights from mountains of data

Camera traps help researchers assess the health of wildlife species, especially those that are reclusive and rare. Worldwide, biologists and land managers place motion-triggered cameras in forests and wilderness areas to monitor species, snapping millions of photos a year. 


But what do you do when you have millions of wildlife selfies to sort through? On top of that, how do you quickly process photos where animals are difficult to find, like when an animal is in the dark or hiding behind a bush? And how do you quickly sort through up to 80 percent of photos that have no wildlife at all because the camera trap was triggered by the elements, like grass blowing in the wind?


Processing all these photos isn’t only time consuming and painstaking. For decades, one of the biggest challenges has been simply collecting them. Today, millions of camera trap photos languish on the hard drives and discs of individuals and organizations worldwide.


Illuminating the natural world with AI

With Wildlife Insights, conservation scientists with camera trap photos can now upload their images to Google Cloud and run Google’s species identification AI models over the images, collaborate with others, visualize wildlife on a map and develop insights on species population health.


It’s the largest and most diverse public camera-trap database in the world that allows people to explore millions of camera-trap images, and filter images by species, country and year.


Wildlife Insights

Seven leading conservation organizations and Google released Wildlife Insights to better protect wildlife.

On average, human experts can label 300 to 1,000 images per hour. With the help of Google AI Platform Predictions, Wildlife Insights can classify the same images up to 3,000 times faster, analyzing 3.6 million photos an hour. To make this possible, we trained an AI model to automatically classify species in an image using Google’s open source TensorFlow framework. 

Even though species identification can be a challenging task for AI, across the 614 species that Google’s AI models have been trained on, species like jaguars, white-lipped peccaries and African elephants have between an 80 to 98.6 percent probability of being correctly predicted. Most importantly, images detected to contain no animals with a very high confidence are removed automatically, freeing biologists to do science instead of looking at empty images of blowing grass. 

With this data, managers of protected areas or anti-poaching programs can gauge the health of specific species, and local governments can use data to inform policies and create conservation measures. 

Wildlife Insights Animal Classifier

The Wildlife Insights Animal Classifier tool helps researchers classify 614 species.

Acting before it’s too late

Thanks to the combination of advanced technology, data sharing, partnerships and science-based analytics, we have a chance to bend the curve of species decline.

While we’re just at the beginning of applying AI to better understand wildlife from sensors in the field, solutions like Wildlife Insights can help us protect our planet so that future generations can live in a world teeming with wildlife. 

Learn more about Wildlife Insights and watch the documentary film Eyes in the Forest: Saving Wildlife In Colombia Using Camera Traps and AI. The film tells the story of a camera trapper who uses Wildlife Insights to document and preserve the biological diversity in Caño Cristales, a reserve in Colombia’s remote upper Amazon region. 

Wildlife Insights is a collaboration between Conservation International, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Map of Life, World Wide Fund for Nature, Wildlife Conservation Society, Zoological Society of London, Google Earth Outreach,  built by Vizzuality, and supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Lyda Hill Philanthropies. 

Take a walk on the wild side in Google Earth

This World Wildlife Day, become one with nature—and its animal inhabitants—on Voyager, Google Earth’s storytelling feature. We’ve launched three interactive tours with Explore.org, National Geographic Society and The Nature Conservancy that let you get up close with our planet’s magnificent animals and the challenges they face.

This live cam is owl you need

First, fly to the treetops of Montana with Explore.org to see owls and ospreys in the wild. You can watch live streams of three different owl species—Long-eared, Great Horned and Great Gray Owls — raising their young in their nests.

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All aboard

Hop on the National Geographic Photo Ark, an ambitious project from photographer Joel Sartore to document every species living in human care. Peek behind the scenes to see how Sartore captures these amazing shots, and don’t miss the last page for a choose-your-own-adventure look at 30 of the feathered, furry and finned friends that have already joined the Photo Ark.

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Turtle power

Finally, dive into the South Pacific near the Arnavon Islands. Here you’ll find The Nature Conservancy and local communities working to protect the largest nesting site of the endangered hawksbill turtle.

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Google Earth Live: Explore.org invites you to hang out with Alaskan Brown Bears

Bear
Watch bears at Brooks Falls LIVE in Google Earth.

Spring comes quickly to Alaska. The snowpack melts, rivers swell with crisp water, delicate blue forget-me-nots bloom near the water’s edge, and brown bears emerge from a six or seven  month hibernation in the Katmai National Park. On their annual migration from the ocean to their spawning grounds, sockeye salmon rush up the Brooks River until they meet the falls. Waiting for them there are the bears, who eagerly paw the air, striking for some fresh protein as they jump out of the water.


Beginning today, we’re bringing live content to Google Earth’s storytelling platform, Voyager. In a story by Explore.org you can journey into Katmai National Park — watch the hungry bears dine out at Brooks Falls or salmon darting towards the underwater livecam.
Explore

Hear a personal perspective from the founder of Explore.org, Charles Annenberg, in which he shares his motivations for putting the Explore.org livecam network together, including the Katmai bear livecams.

Ready, Set, Explore!

Walk, climb and swim with wildlife in Google Earth

This week we’re giving you a taste of what you can find in Voyager, a showcase of interactive tours and stories from experts, nonprofits and more in the new Google Earth.

For 10 years, Google Earth Outreach has empowered nonprofits to create positive change in the world with Google’s mapping tools. Learn more about the efforts of many of these organizations in today’s Voyager spotlight.

Start with Dr. Jane Goodall, as she introduces you to the G-Family—that's chimpanzees Gremlin, Gaia and Google (!)—in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park. From East Africa, head to the Gulf of California with Dr. Sylvia Earle and dive into the vibrant waters off Baja, Mexico, to witness leaping mobula rays and other vibrant ocean life. Finally, walk alongside the Hardwoods elephant family of Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve with the organization working to save them, Save the Elephants.

In addition to chimpanzees, we’ve got lions and tigers and bears (oh my!), along with most of the other species on the planet. Visit Voyager today to dive with sharks, waddle with penguins and learn about wildlife conservation efforts around the globe.

Walk, climb and swim with wildlife in Google Earth

This week we’re giving you a taste of what you can find in Voyager, a showcase of interactive tours and stories from experts, nonprofits and more in the new Google Earth.

For 10 years, Google Earth Outreach has empowered nonprofits to create positive change in the world with Google’s mapping tools. Learn more about the efforts of many of these organizations in today’s Voyager spotlight.

Start with Dr. Jane Goodall, as she introduces you to the G-Family—that's chimpanzees Gremlin, Gaia and Google (!)—in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park. From East Africa, head to the Gulf of California with Dr. Sylvia Earle and dive into the vibrant waters off Baja, Mexico, to witness leaping mobula rays and other vibrant ocean life. Finally, walk alongside the Hardwoods elephant family of Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve with the organization working to save them, Save the Elephants.

In addition to chimpanzees, we’ve got lions and tigers and bears (oh my!), along with most of the other species on the planet. Visit Voyager today to dive with sharks, waddle with penguins and learn about wildlife conservation efforts around the globe.