Can Online Poker Save Animals?

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Technology has the potential to bring many benefits to our world, but one of the more interesting stories is the revelation that online poker software is being used in African wildlife conservation. Throughout the continent, all manner of endangered species are being pushed to the brink of extinction due to the ruthless actions of poachers.

The University of Southern California (USC) is spearheading the initiative, which is using gaming technology and its algorithms to create, in essence, artificial intelligence that can predict the movement patterns of poachers. This innovative feature can then be used by rangers working on game reserves to prevent activities such as hunting and the planting of traps.

PAWS: Software to Aid Game Reserves

Professor Milind Tambe is the man tasked with developing the platform, which has been named Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security, or PAWS for short. And this software is desperately in needed in Africa, where years of poaching have seen animal numbers plummet across many different species.

From 2006 and 2015, rampant elephant poaching saw the population decline by a staggering 20%. In 1980s, Uganda the elephant population fell as low as 700 to 800 during the years of dictatorship. Fortunately, Uganda’s elephants have recovered to reach 5,000, but a new poaching threat has emerged and now PAWS is desperately needed by wild reserve rangers.

Poachers who hunt animals for their ivory, teeth, skin, or any other bodily features are highly publicised in the media. However, the problem goes beyond that to people from the local area who hunt because they don’t have enough money or food to support their families. Such widespread intervention from human poachers can also disrupt animals’ food chain, with predator species not able to find enough food.

Uganda: Test Project in Action

Since 2013, USC and the PAWS project have been working with Queen Elizabeth National Park, which situated in Uganda. When working on the project, USC has benefited from the park’s 18 years of poaching data that has been collected rangers. By using the data, PAWS has been given an important head-start to help the application becoming usable within a shorter timeframe.

Getting into the specifics, PAWS is being designed to give rangers the ability to map the routes of poachers. To make this possible, USC has used the algorithms from online poker technology. In online poker, this software is used to predict how human opponents will act or react, which is why the technology will be beneficial in a poaching context.

Saving Animal Lives

Although PAWS is still being perfected, the rangers have already started using the application. In the first month alone, the rangers were able to find 10 animal traps before they could kill any animals. Sadly, there have been some notable casualties, but hopefully the situation will improve.

USC professor Tambe has a track record of using gaming technology to help remedy social issues. Back in the early 200s, Tambe used the technology to make government departments and law enforcement agencies more affordable – and now animals throughout African can hopefully benefit.

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