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Tech offer to crack the tiger trade

#Tech #offer #crack #tiger #trade

In a town in north-east Scotland, Debbie Banks searches for clues to track down criminals while clicking through a database of tiger skins.

There are thousands of photographs including carpets, carcasses and taxidermy.

Banks, the criminal campaign leader for the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a London-based charity, is trying to identify individual big cats by their stripes.

Once a tiger is identified, an investigator can determine where it came from.

“A tiger’s stripes are as unique as human fingerprints,” Banks told AFP.

“We can use the images to match against images of captive tigers that may have been bred.”

At present, this is slow, tedious work.

But a new artificial intelligence tool being developed by the Alan Turing Institute, a center for data science and artificial intelligence in the UK, should make life a whole lot easier for banks and law enforcement officials.

The project aims to develop and test AI technology that can analyze tigers’ stripes to identify them.

“We have a database of images of tigers that have been offered for sale or confiscated,” Banks said.

“When our investigators receive new images, we have to compare them with the database.

“Right now we’re doing it manually, looking at the individual stripe patterns of each new image and comparing it to what we have in our database.”

It is hoped the new technology will help law enforcement determine where tiger pelts come from and allow them to probe the transnational networks involved in the tiger trade.

Once officials know the origin of the seized tiger skins and products, they can determine whether the animal was farmed or poached from a sanctuary.

Poaching, driven by consumer demand, remains a major threat to the species’ survival, according to the EIA.

Tiger skins and body parts are sought after, partly because of their use in traditional Chinese medicine.

An estimated 4,500 tigers remain in the wild across Asia.

“Tigers have faced massive population declines over the past 120 years, so we want to do everything we can to end trade in their parts and products, including tiger skins,” Banks said.

Anyone with photos of tigers is invited to submit them to the EIA to help strengthen the AI ​​database.

“We’re inviting individuals — whether they’re photographers or researchers and academics — who may have images of tigers on which their stripe patterns are clear,” Banks said.

“These can be live tigers, dead tigers or parts of tigers.

“If they can share these with us, the data scientists can develop, train and test the algorithm,” she said.

“We need thousands of images just to get this phase of the project done.”

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