Orphaned elephants in Botswana receive a helping hand from AI
5:11 AM EDT, Wed July 19, 2023
Orphaned elephants in Botswana are about to receive some help thanks to a pioneering collaboration between wildlife foundation Elephant Havens and biotech company Colossal. The collaboration will see AI used to study elephant behavior, to aid the reintroduction of orphans to the wild.
Elephant Havens co-founder Debra Stevens says human-wildlife conflict is the leading cause of elephants becoming orphaned -- the majority of incidents involving fires. The foundation is caring for orphans as part of a reintroduction program that will monitor their progress for over a decade.
The foundation is partnering with Colossal on an extensive data-gathering operation, using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze the animals' behavior and pair it with genomic data on each elephant. "We'll be able to mix the art of the elephant handlers with the science of today," argues Matt James, chief animal officer at Colossal (pictured center).
Colossal's Matt James alongside a calf. The AI will be fed video footage which has been interpreted by elephant handlers, so that over time it can learn about social behaviors and leadership models, for example.
Colossal is also sequencing the genomes of Elephant Havens' orphans to conduct a gene-trait analysis of individuals, to see how their genetic information might be expressed in their behavior.
The data Colossal is generating will feed into the company's plans to create an elephant-mammoth hybrid, which it intends to introduce to the Arctic tundra. Like Elephant Havens when it reintroduces orphans to the wild, Colossal will be socially engineering herds. Pictured: Ben Lamm, co-founder and CEO of Colossal, alongside fellow co-founder George Church, Ph.D.
An illustration of a woolly mammoth. The species became extinct some 4,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. Lamm says Colossal's hybrid will combine genetic information from mammoths with that of an Asian elephant to create an animal with the cold-temperature resilience, through hair and fat deposits.
The woolly mammoth is not the only extinct animal Colossal intends to revive. Another is the thylacine (also known as the "Tasmanian wolf" or "Tasmanian tiger") a carnivorous marsupial that became extinct in the 1930s.
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Colossal says it also has plans to bring back the dodo, a flightless bird that lived on islands in the Indian Ocean and became extinct due to humans in the 18th Century. (Pictured: a stuffed dodo at the Natural History Museum, London.)