Establishing the fundamentals for an elephant early warning and monitoring system

Authors: Matthias Zeppelzauer & Angela S. Stoeger
Published: BMC Research Notes volume 8, Article number: 409 (2015), 4 September, 2015


Background - The decline of habitat for elephants due to expanding human activity is a serious conservation problem. This has continuously escalated the human–elephant conflict in Africa and Asia. Elephants make extensive use of powerful infrasonic calls (rumbles) that travel distances of up to several kilometers. This makes elephants well-suited for acoustic monitoring because it enables detecting elephants even if they are out of sight. In sight, their distinct visual appearance makes them a good candidate for visual monitoring. We provide an integrated overview of our interdisciplinary project that established the scientific fundamentals for a future early warning and monitoring system for humans who regularly experience serious conflict with elephants. We first draw the big picture of an early warning and monitoring system, then review the developed solutions for automatic acoustic and visual detection, discuss specific challenges and present open future work necessary to build a robust and reliable early warning and monitoring system that is able to operate in situ.

Findings - We present a method for the automated detection of elephant rumbles that is robust to the diverse noise sources present in situ. We evaluated the method on an extensive set of audio data recorded under natural field conditions. Results show that the proposed method outperforms existing approaches and accurately detects elephant rumbles. Our visual detection method shows that tracking elephants in wildlife videos (of different sizes and postures) is feasible and particularly robust at near distances.

Discussion - From our project results we draw a number of conclusions that are discussed and summarized. We clearly identified the most critical challenges and necessary improvements of the proposed detection methods and conclude that our findings have the potential to form the basis for a future automated early warning system for elephants. We discuss challenges that need to be solved and summarize open topics in the context of a future early warning and monitoring system. We conclude that a long-term evaluation of the presented methods in situ using real-time prototypes is the most important next step to transfer the developed methods into practical implementation