Teen Invents Low-Cost Tool To Spot Elephant Poachers In Real Time

August 30, 2022

A teenager from New York has invented a low-cost tool to spot elephant poachers in real time.

anika puri elephants
Anika Puri / Credit: Society for Science

Anika Puri, 17, won the 2022 Peggy Scripps Award for Science Communication for her prototype of a machine-learning-driven software that analyzes movement patterns in thermal infrared videos of humans and elephants.

"I'm especially excited by innovation focusing on endangered species and environmental science," Puri said.

During a recent trip to India, Puri realized that elephants were still being poached for their tusks.

"I was quite taken aback," Puri told Smithsonian Magazine. "Because I always thought, 'well, poaching is illegal, how come it really is still such a big issue?'"

Over the next two years, Puri created ElSa (short for elephant savior).

This wildlife poacher detection solution is based on a simple process: an EISa camera attached to an iPhone hovers over a park on a drone and detects the movements of elephants or humans.

Puri says the software is four times more accurate than existing state-of-the-art detection methods. It also eliminates the need for expensive high-resolution thermal cameras.

The 17-year-old's invention has earned praise from notable scientists.

Puri's software is "quite commendable," says Jasper Eikelboom, an ecologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands who is designing a system to detect poachers using GPS trackers on animals. "It's quite remarkable that a high school student has been able to do something like this. Not only the research and the analysis, but also…being able to implement it in the prototypes."

Watch the video below.

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